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Von der Leyen wants to connect Balkan countries closely to EU

Brussels/Skopje - EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen wants to connect countries in the Balkans as closely as possible to the European Union in a move to reverse frustrations triggered by France's president nixing accession hopes.

Western Balkans

"I think it is in our common geostrategic interest to have the Western Balkans as close as possible to the European Union," von der Leyen said in Brussels as an informal EU-Western Balkans meeting takes place Sunday and Monday.

The term Western Balkans - an EU-creation - refers to Albania and those successor states of Yugoslavia which have not joined the EU yet.

The EU changed the methodology of the accession negotiations in order to build new confidence on both sides, she added, saying the new approach accelerated structural reforms and created a credible prospect for the Balkan countries to join the EU after some time.

North Macedonia and Albania

The opening of accession negotiations, above all for North Macedonia and Albania, failed last year due to the resistance of French President Emmanuel Macron.

His stance triggered a government crisis in Skopje, with the social democrat government resigning in January. New elections are scheduled for April.

Then-premier Zoran Zaev had put an end to years of dispute with neighbouring Greece over the country's name, thereby clearing the way for EU and Nato membership.

Von der Leyen said the Commission wanted to clear the way for accession negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania - if possible before a Balkan summit scheduled for May.