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Foreign ministers split over EU West Balkan Strategy

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Foreign ministers split over EU West Balkan Strategy

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Meeting in Sofia, Bulgaria, the European Union's foreign ministers were split on the bloc's West Balkan strategy.

Brussels wants to bring six West Balkan states into the Union.

Serbia and Montenegro are first up, with a planned accession date of 2025. Albania, Bosnia Herzegovina, Kosovo and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia will follow, as Brussels tries to reclaim the region from Russian and Chinese influence.

That, at least, is the plan. But for now there's a snag: Serbia won't recognise Kosovo's independence.

"It is necessary to accept Kosovo," said Sigmar Gabriel, Germany's Foreign Minister, speaking in Pristina on Wednesday (February 14). "The best condition for this is to find a solution to end the border conflicts and the Kosovo conflict. Why? Because it is necessary for Serbia, otherwise Serbia cannot become a member of the European Union".

Security

During the recent migrant crisis, one main route into the EU went through the Western Balkans.

Hungary and Bulgaria, which border the region, say there's no time to waste. The security of the bloc depends on securing the Balkans, and the region couldn't withstand another wave of migrants.

"It's obvious that the US have a strategy on the Western Balkans, Russia has a strategy on the Western Balakans, Turkey does have a strategy on the Western Balkans," Hungary's Foreign Minister Peter Szijarto said as he headed into the meeting on Thursday. "It's only the European Union that it's extremely slow when it comes to issues in the Western Balkans".

Regional disputes

But Slovenian Foreign Minister Karl Erjavec said regional disputes can take years to resolve. Rather than being too slow, 2025 might be too optimistic, he suggested.

"Slovenia had twenty years dialogue with Croatia to find a solution regarding the border between Slovenia and Croatia and I think it's not possible to expect this condition in 2025".

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker is scheduled to visit all six West Balkan countries later this month.