The European Union says it is open to more states from the Balkans joining the bloc if the countries there continue their economic and political reforms.
"The Western Balkan countries have an unequivocal European perspective," Jean-Claude Juncker said on March 9 at an EU summit in Brussels.
Juncker heads the European Commission, which is conducting membership negotiations with the Balkan countries of Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, Macedonia, and Serbia.
EU leaders said on March 9 that they had put Balkan membership high on the agenda of their Brussels summit to show the countries that, despite ethnic tensions in the region, reform-minded countries would eventually be welcome to join, particularly at a time when Russia is also looking to increase influence there.
The summit did not set out new EU policies for the Balkans, but diplomats said European leaders would look to visit the region more often to encourage reforms.
"For the countries in the Balkans, that matters," a senior EU official told Reuters. "There's a sense that their European path has slipped away. But their only path is towards the EU."
Based on reporting by Reuters and AFP