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West Balkan leaders head to EU summit to talk membership

The leaders of Albania, Serbia and North Macedonia are set to attend a European Union summit on Thursday after they had pondered a boycott.

The three Western Balkan leaders are heading to Brussels to discuss their progress toward EU accession.

The leaders of Albania and Serbia had briefly considered not attending the summit amid disappointment over the lack of progress on milestones to becoming EU members.

Anger toward Bulgaria

EU member state Bulgaria has been blocking the start of the accession talks with North Macedonia and Albania, angering the two West Balkan states with the threat of a veto from Sofia.

"We'll attend the EU Council meeting," Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama wrote on Twitter on Wednesday. "There won't be much to hear about us," he wrote in English, but the West Balkan states want to be heard on how they had been treated by Bulgaria, he wrote.

Rama went on to say that Bulgaria was "kidnapping" the West Balkan states and "destroying" the spirit of Europe.

Bulgaria has demanded that issues of "common history," language and identity be discussed with North Macedonia as a precondition for the accession talks, which North Macedonian President Stevo Pendarovski said was "unacceptable."

"It is unacceptable that historical issues and language disputes are included in the negotiating framework with the EU," Pendarovski told Skopje-based TV24 Casa earlier this week.

What is the status of Western Balkans' EU membership bids?

The European Union got its start in 1951 as a bloc of six countries known as the European Coal and Steel Community, but has expanded over the years. It now has 27 member states.

Western Balkan countries, including Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo and Montenegro, are at different stages of the application process to join the EU.

Accession negotiations with the EU for Montenegro and Serbia are underway, while negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania have been pending since 2020.

Kosovo and Bosnia-Herzegovina have submitted their membership applications, but still haven't started negotiations.

Separately on Thursday, EU leaders are meeting to decide on granting candidate status for Ukraine and Moldova, the first step in a long process to become members of the bloc.

Ukraine's widely expected fast-track route to official candidate status is seen as increasing the Western Balkans' feeling of being sidelined. But some see it as a good sign.

"From my point of view, it's good for the countries of the Western Balkans because it shows that the geostrategic importance of EU enlargement is still there and that there is movement in the enlargement process," Manuel Sarrazin, Germany's special representative for the Western Balkans, told DW.

fb/kb (dpa, Reuters)