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EU leaders and their Western Balkan counterparts have gathered in the Albanian capital, Tirana, for talks aimed at boosting their partnership amid Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
Brussels wants to use the one-day gathering -- the first EU-Western Balkans summit to be held outside the European Union -- to tell leaders from Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia, and Serbia to give them concrete signals, rather than just vague promises, that they will join that the 27-country bloc one day.
"I am convinced that the future of our children will be safer with the Western Balkans within the European Union, and we hope that we will progress in that direction," European Council President Charles Michel said at the start of the summit on December 6.
The EU's top diplomat, Josep Borrell, has reiterated that stepping up the bloc's engagement with the six countries is more crucial than ever to maintaining Europe's security given Russia's war in Ukraine.
Tensions have also mounted in the Balkans since the start of the conflict, and the EU wants to avoid other flashpoints close to its borders. Brussels is also wary of the battle to increase influence in the region by Moscow and Beijing.
"In the Western Balkans, several crises are looming, and partners feel the immediate damaging impact of Russia's aggression against Ukraine," Borrell said last month.
"The shock waves of this war are hitting the Western Balkans. To counter that, we are stepping up our engagement as the Western Balkans remain our geostrategic priority -- the closest and most important geostrategic priority."
According to a draft of the declaration to be adopted at the summit, the EU will repeat "its full and unequivocal commitment to the European Union membership perspective of the Western Balkans" and call for an acceleration of accession talks with the incumbents.
In return, the EU expects full solidarity from its Western Balkans partners and wants them fully aligned with its foreign policies.
The attendance of Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, who claims he wants to take Serbia into the European Union but has cultivated ties with Russia, was uncertain until the day before the summit.
Vucic said that he decided to come to Tirana "after consultations with the state institutions."
"It's always better to be at the table because when you're not at the table, you're on the menu," Vucic said.
Kosovar President Vjosa Osmani emphasized that she expects clear messages from the European Union regarding her country's membership prospects.
"Sometimes confusing messages are being sent. On the one hand, we have countries that are fully aligned with the EU, and on the other hand, you have countries that are fully aligned with [Russian President Vladimir] Putin. The EU needs to be clear in its messages. Standing on the right side of history today is the least that is expected of us," Osmani said.
Osmani has confirmed Kosovo's intention to submit an application for full EU membership this month.
Kosovo has only started the first step, with the signing of a Stabilization and Association Agreement.
Among the concrete measures to be adopted in Tirana, a deal involving telecommunications operators that will bring down data roaming charges will be announced.
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