Greece urges EU to take in west Balkans

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Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis says the European Union should offer the integration of all six nations of the Western Balkans into the EU by 2033 in what he called a "bold but necessary step".

Russia's invasion of Ukraine has lent a new sense of urgency to the need to tie Montenegro, Serbia, Albania, North Macedonia, Bosnia and Kosovo closer to the 27-member EU, in part to counter growing Russian and Chinese influence in the region.

The link could entail full membership or an alternative community.

In an article published in Politico ahead of a summit in Greece of the South East European Cooperation Process (SEECP), Mitsotakis said the EU needs to prove that when "it sets out a vision it has the intent and the capacity to follow through".

The vision of EU accession for the region, he said, has become "blurry, fading in the eyes of frustrated and disillusioned citizens" as EU expansion has stalled in recent years over security, governance and migration concerns.

An EU-Western Balkans summit is scheduled on June 23.

"My message today is clear: In accordance with set criteria, let us offer the integration of all of the Western Balkans into the EU by 2033 - an ambitious but achievable timeline. This is long overdue," Mitsotakis said.

"The first step must be a decision in two weeks' time in Brussels to unblock the path of North Macedonia and Albania."

Mitsotakis' initiative underscored how Greece has been trying to boost its role in the Balkans as it has emerged from a financial crisis that tarnished its image.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who on Friday begins a two-day tour of the Western Balkans, is also expected to travel to the northern Greek city of Thessaloniki for dinner with the 13 participants of SEECP.

European Council President Charles Michel will join them.

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