TIRANA (Reuters) - Leaders of six Western Balkan countries told the European Union on Thursday they were becoming impatient with their long wait to join the bloc and needed EU funds to keep up reforms.
The prime ministers of Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia, Bosnia, Kosovo and Albania, all hoping to join the bloc, said their cooperation should be rewarded with projects like new road and rail links. They were meeting in Albania ahead of a fund-raising conference in Vienna in August.
“We are fed up with seminars. We need some money from the EU funds, and then you will see the smiles on our faces,” said Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic.
He told EU leaders the Balkans are still fragile, in a reference to violence in Macedonia in May.
Slovenia and Croatia are the only countries in the region to have joined the EU. The others have lagged behind because of conflicts with neighbours after the break-up of Yugoslavia and a failure to achieve the reforms needed to join.
Vucic shook hands with his Kosovo counterpart, Isa Mustafa, in a gesture that would have been unthinkable only a few years ago.
Kosovo was a Serbian province but became independent in 2008, almost a decade after NATO went to war to halt a wave of ethnic cleansing there by Serbian troops. So far Serbia has refused to recognise its sovereignty.
Now Serbia and Kosovo are discussing ways to improve the lives of their citizens. Mustafa said Kosovo wants a road connecting it to Serbia.
Echoing Vucic, Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama said the Balkan leaders wanted progress, not more group photos, from Vienna’s meeting, a follow-up to a summit of the Balkan premiers with Germany held in Berlin last August.
“We do not want to allow patience fatigue (over EU entry) to become the enemy. We have to ... see some concrete results,” Rama said.
Of the six Balkan countries, only Montenegro is actively negotiating EU accession. Serbia, Macedonia and Albania are official candidates. The EU has signalled it is unlikely to accept any new members until the end of the decade.
Former German foreign minister Joschka Fischer, who oversaw the end of the conflict in Kosovo and attended Thursday’s meeting, said that the Balkan leaders raised reasonable points.
“If you want to have regional cooperation you need connectivity, streets, railways. It is important that this is understood by Brussels,” he said.
Editing by Zoran Radosavljevic and Katharine Houreld