Von der Leyen: EU path for Western Balkans is of ‘great strategic importance’

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Incoming President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen | Sean Gallup/Getty Images

The incoming Commission chief said Albania and Northern Macedonia had made “incredible efforts.”

Granting Albania and North Macedonia a route to EU accession is “of great strategic importance” for the bloc, Ursula von der Leyen said Friday.

The comments by the European Commission President-elect, who addressed reporters in Berlin following a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel were a clear dig at French President Emmanuel Macron, who last month led opposition to a decision to launch enlargement negotiations.

“I firmly believe that it is of great strategic importance for us to link the Western Balkans as closely as possible to the European Union,” von der Leyen said.

“Albania and Northern Macedonia have made incredible efforts to reach the point we have asked them to reach,” she continued, while stressing that she will look for alternative means to strengthen ties with the countries.

“As long as it is not possible to actually open the accession talks … I will put all my energy into developing joint projects that will increasingly bind these countries to us through close cooperation,” she said, adding: “If we don’t do that, others will fall into a vacuum, and we do not want that to happen.”

Speaking next to von der Leyen, Merkel said she considers it “extremely important, for strategic European interests, that these countries don’t lose hope in the prospect of accession.” This was also “very closely” linked to the issue migration, the chancellor added, alluding to the fact that many refugees have entered the EU in past years via the Western Balkans route.

Addressing the topic of migration, von der Leyen said that she aims to present in the second quarter of next year her New Pact on Migration on Asylum, which she had announced in her first speech to the European Parliament in July.

“Our goal must be … to be a role model in this world for how migration can be managed sustainably, with a humane approach, but also effectively. And I am firmly convinced that the European Union can do that,” she said.

Merkel said Germany was in favor of von der Leyen’s migration plans, which haven’t been specified further yet: “We will, of course, give our positive support to the new proposals, I think.”

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