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State of the Union: Western Balkans thrown EU membership lifeline, as tensions flare in Kosovo

Moldova's President Maia Sandu & European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in Chisinau, Moldova, prior to the European Political Community Summit, May 31 2023
Moldova's President Maia Sandu & European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in Chisinau, Moldova, prior to the European Political Community Summit, May 31 2023 Copyright Andreea Alexandru/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved
Copyright Andreea Alexandru/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved
By Stefan Grobe
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Tensions flared between Kosovo and Serbia and there was a drone attack in Moscow. Here's a look at some of the big stories in Europe this week.

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Brussels presented a plan this week to bring the Western Balkans closer to the European Union.

The plan would further align the Western Balkans with the single market, facilitate economic integration, and speed up judicial and anti-corruption reform while boosting pre-accession funding.

“We finally realise that it is not enough to just wait for our friends outside the Union to move closer to us," European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said.

"It is not enough to say that the door is open. We must also take responsibility to bring the aspiring members of our Union much closer to us.”

Countries in the Western Balkans were first promised they would eventually join the EU back in 2003 at a summit in Thessaloniki but progress in the negotiations has been extremely slow, causing frustration in the region.

Tensions flare in Kosovo

Tensions flared again between Kosovo and Serbia this week as Serb protesters clashed with NATO peacekeepers in northern Kosovo over ethnic Albanian mayors.

"Violence sets back Kosovo and the entire region and puts Euro-Atlantic aspirations at risk. Both Pristina and Belgrade must take concrete steps to de-escalate the situation, and refrain from further irresponsible behaviour," NATO Secretary-General, Jens Stoltenberg, warned.

According to Romanian MEP Dragos Tudorache, who follows the situation in the Balkans closely, the way things are going in Kosovo and Serbia does not bode well for their EU aspirations.

"The one thing that we do want to see from countries, in particular, but also for them aspiring to become candidate countries, is first an understanding - a very serious understanding - of the values that underpin this Union," Tudorache told Euronews.

"And among these values you have tolerance, you have a good understanding with your neighbours, and particularly in a region that was so much challenged over the last decades with violence, with ethnic conflict.

"I think both sides have an even higher responsibility to understand what it is to be a member, to be a candidate country, for the EU to adhere to those values and display them in their political behaviour."

Ukraine war reaches Moscow

The violent clashes in Kosovo were not the only shocking news this week.

There was a mysterious drone attack on Moscow, more than 800 kilometres away from the Ukrainian border. While there was not much damage, it did create confusion.

It remains unclear who was responsible, but that has not stopped Russia from taking a hard line and indicating “the harshest possible measures in response”.

The Ukrainians have not said much, only that they had nothing directly to do with it.

But the drone strikes certainly bring the war directly to Putin’s doorstep.

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