The European Union aims to boost economic relations with the Balkan countries with a special focus on Serbia. Western Balkan countries – Serbia, Bosnia, Kosovo, Albania, Macedonia and Montenegro – are all candidate countries to join the EU, but the region carries a heavy legacy of the ethnic wars of the 1990s and struggles to overcome its image of being a lawless land.
European Council President Donald Tusk said yesterday (25 April) that the membership bids would be advanced at a planned EU-Western Balkans summit on 17 May in Sofia. “The EU is ready and it wants to remain the most trustworthy partner of Serbia and the entire Western Balkans region,” Mr. Tusk said and stressed that “at our summit in Sofia we will reaffirm that readiness to work on EU integration.”
Serbia and Montenegro are the most serious candidate countries in the region and the EU Commission has set a tentative target accession date of 2025. All six Western Balkan countries are trying to join the bloc but as part of their efforts they need to improve human rights and media freedoms and resolve any disputes with their neighbors before they can join. “There’s a lot of work ahead of Serbia. We have started to work on the rule of law … and on cooperation with journalists’ associations,” Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said.
Western Balkans has recently seen an increase in Russian and Chinese influence, which is why some EU member countries are very adamant about expanding the EU into the region. EU member states remain the region’s main investor and trade partner. Since 2007, the European Investment Bank and other EU institutions have invested more than 7 billion euros in the Western Balkans.