ATHENS – Leaders of the EU candidate and potential candidate countries met in Athens on Monday evening at the invitation of the Prime Minister of Greece Kyriakos Mitsotakis, marking the 20 years of the EU-Western Balkans Summit in Thessaloniki which promised EU membership perspective to the region. Western Balkan presidents and prime ministers were joined by the leaders of the new candidate countries, Ukraine and Moldova, EU members from the region, as well as Presidents of the European Commission and European Council.
The joint Declaration, which confirmed the support for Ukrainian independence and territorial integrity, as well as “re-energized and re-focused” enlargement, was issued by President Vučić of Serbia, President Sandu of Moldova, President Zelenskyy of Ukraine, President Milatović of Montenegro, Prime Minister Mitsotakis of Greece, Prime Minister Ciolacu of Romania, Prime Minister Kurti of Kosovo, Chairwoman of the Council of Ministers of Bosnia and Herzegovina Krišto, Prime Minister of North Macedonia Kovachevski, Prime Minister of Bulgaria Denkov, and Prime Minister of Croatia Plenković.
President of Albania Bajram Begaj was invited to represent his country, but could not participate “due to an agenda defined earlier”.
The first point of the Declaration, adopted at the Summit, stated that the “Russian invasion of Ukraine is a pivotal moment for Europe, creating a new level of awareness of shared principles, unity and common future within the EU”.
The document proceeded to express “unwavering support for Ukraine’s independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity within its internationally recognized borders, based on the values of democracy and rule of law”. It supported Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in setting out the principles for peace in line with the UN Charter, in his Peace Formula, as well as the efforits of the EU General Assembly. The leaders stated that there can be no impunity for war crimes.
The Declaration also recalled that, twenty years ago, Thessaloniki Summit acknowledged that the Western Balkans belong to the European Union. In light of the war in Ukraine it is important that this region, together with Moldova and Ukraine itself, be embraced as full-fledged members of the European family.
“We underlined the need for a re-energized and re-focused enlargement process that is tangible and credible, without shortcuts to the set conditions. We expressed our commitment to support Ukraine and Moldova to take the next steps in their accession process as soon as they have completed the necessary reforms”, the Declaration states.
Before the start of the dinner, European Council President Charles Michel said that “enlargment remains a top priority” for the bloc.
“Western Balkans, Ukraine & Moldova have a common European heritage, history & future. Enlargement remains a top priority for EU -a strong tool to foster peace, security and prosperity on our continent. We need to find the way forward to make this vision of Europe a reality,” he said in a post on Twitter.
#WesternBalkans, #Ukraine & #Moldova have a common European heritage, history & future.
#Enlargement remains a top priority for EU -a strong tool to foster peace, security and prosperity on our continent.
We need to find the way forward to make this vision of Europe a reality pic.twitter.com/Hwgy4WqmuJ
— Charles Michel (@CharlesMichel) August 21, 2023
The President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, said on her arrival to Athens that the EU needs “to bring our friends, the aspiring members of the EU much closer to us and much faster.”
We need to bring our friends, the aspiring members of the EU much closer to us and much faster.
Glad to be in Athens to discuss the European perspective of our neighbors and partners in the East and the Western Balkans.
We will keep bringing down barriers between our regions. pic.twitter.com/OJkAQYDlef
— Ursula von der Leyen (@vonderleyen) August 21, 2023