The head of the European Union’s executive branch sought to reassure the six Western Balkan countries of their future membership in the bloc as she visited Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina on September 30.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen attended the inauguration of a railway link in Serbia and a bridge in neighboring Bosnia as part of a six-nation regional tour ahead of an EU-Western Balkans summit on October 6.
Von der Leyen made the stopovers two days after Reuters reported that the 27 member states have so far been unable to agree a declaration reaffirming their pledge of future EU membership for Albania, Bosnia, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia, and Serbia.
And according to an internal EU document seen by RFE/RL and dated September 27, alleged abuse by Albania, Serbia, and other non-EU European countries has prompted some European Union members to raise the possibility of canceling the visa-free travel regime to the bloc.
Among the abuses cited are unlawful residency and unfounded asylum claims.
Speaking at the opening of the Svilaj Bridge connecting northern Bosnia and Croatia, von der Leyen spoke about the important symbol of the project.
“Building bridges between people, countries, and cultures, that is so crucial for our common future. Because Bosnia and Herzegovina, and all the Western Balkans, belong in the European Union. It is in our common interest, but I also believe, it is our destiny,” she said.
Von der Leyen said the EU had invested 25 million euros ($29 million) in the bridge over the Sava River. The ceremony was also attended by the chairman of Bosnia’s Council of Ministers, Zoran Tegeltija, as well as Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic.
Attending the official launch of the works to modernize a railway section between Nis and Brestovac in Serbia later in the day, von der Leyen said she was “a strong advocate for bringing Serbia into the European Union," according to an EU transcript of the speech.
"We support Serbia's ambition to open as soon as possible new accession clusters," she said, referring to negotiating chapters, while also acknowledging that EU states had the final word in allowing Belgrade to move forward.
Standing alongside von der Leyen, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic promised reform and to help improve ties with Kosovo, which declared independence from Serbia in 2008.
The six Western Balkan states are at different stages on the EU membership path.
Montenegro and Serbia are the most advanced, having opened accession negotiations and chapters.
After a veto by EU-member Bulgaria, membership negotiations for Albania and North Macedonia have been postponed despite the two states having fulfilled all criteria.
Bosnia and Kosovo are potential candidate countries.