German Chancellor Angela Merkel, in her final days in office, has visited Serbia as part of a tour of the Balkans to support the enlargement of the EU.
She urged the European Union to win the battle for influence in the region where Russia and China are also trying to earn some leverage.
"It's in the European Union's strategic interests to integrate the Balkan states into the bloc," Merkel said during her visit on Monday.
She said: "We Europeans, who are already members of the European Union, should always keep in mind that there is an absolute geostrategic interest for us to really accept these countries into the European Union and we see when you said there are steps backwards, that there is also influence from many other regions of the world."
Merkel urged Serbia to make ``further steps in the direction of the rule of law, democracy, a plurality of society and to find a negotiated solution with Kosovo.
After Belgrade, Merkel travelled to Albania where she meet the leaders of five other Western Balkan states that strive for EU membership.
The Western Balkan states -- which include Serbia, Bosnia, North Macedonia, Albania, Montenegro and Kosovo -- have for decades sought EU membership.
But due to the bloc's stalled interest in enlargement and the years of diplomatic crises the EU faced as Britain left the bloc, those Balkan nations have been left to seek other alliances, including with Russia and China.