German Chancellor Angela Merkel has called on Balkan states to bury historical tensions as she expressed optimism EU accession talks could be launched with North Macedonia and Albania by the end of the year.
Merkel, whose country holds the EU’s rotating presidency until the end of the year, was speaking on November 10 via video link at a meeting in the Bulgarian capital, Sofia, bringing together countries involved in the so-called Berlin Process, a forum established to foster the European integration of the Western Balkan countries.
The EU enlargement summit comes as Bulgaria is blocking North Macedonia's path toward European Union membership over a history and language dispute with its neighbor.
“The Berlin Process and its progress always have something to do with reconciliation, with overcoming historical tensions, and that is why we naturally want this process to continue," Merkel said at the summit.
“You have to say ‘yes’ in the region, get along with each other. This is very important," Merkel said.
The summit was cohosted by EU member Bulgaria and neighboring North Macedonia.
Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov and his North Macedonia counterpart Zoran Zaev met in person in Sofia as they seek a solution to their disputes before November 17 talks on Skopje's EU accession bid.
Neither side made public comments on the dispute between their two countries.
Bulgaria wants Skopje to acknowledge that both its identity and language have Bulgarian roots, thereby ending any claims that there is a distinct Macedonian minority in Bulgaria.
Skopje has long insisted Macedonian is a distinct South Slavic language that forms part of the country's culture and national identity, while Sofia says Macedonian is merely a regional dialect of Bulgarian.
Leaders of EU countries and of membership candidates Montenegro, Serbia, North Macedonia, Albania, Bosnia, and Kosovo discussed their accession prospects at the summit.
In a declaration, summit participants set the goal of establishing a common regional market in the Western Balkans based on EU rules. They also agreed to develop a green agenda to unlock the renewable energy potential of the region modeled on the EU’s Green Pact.
Merkel Calls On Balkans To Overcome Differences As Bulgaria Holds Up North Macedonia EU Talks