September 17, 2019 / 4:49 PM / a month ago

EU's Tusk urges bloc to back talks with Balkan neighbours

FILE PHOTO - EU Council President Donald Tusk arrives at the G7 summit in Biarritz, France August 24, 2019. Neil Hall/Pool via REUTERS

TIRANA (Reuters) - The European Union’s outgoing president, Donald Tusk, on Tuesday urged the bloc’s members to back entry talks with North Macedonia and Albania, saying they had lived up to their tasks and Europe would not be stable without the Balkans in the European Union.

Visiting Skopje and Tirana a month before EU members will decide whether to start talks, Tusk praised North Macedonia for resolving its old quarrel with Greece by accepting its new name, as well as for its friendship treaty with Bulgaria and ability to help Europe cope with one of the biggest migration crises.

“These achievements are truly impressive, internationally recognised and should not be wasted by the EU,” he told reporters flanking Prime Minister Zoran Zaev.

“Skopje is the best possible place where I would like to appeal to the leaders of the European Union: Now you do your share. Because North Macedonia has already done its share,” Tusk added, before travelling west to neighbouring Albania’s capital.

In Tirana, Tusk told Prime Minister Edi Rama he wanted to see the whole Western Balkans “follow the same path as my country, Poland, towards the EU”, and that goal was now closer.

“Your country must be treated with equal respect and on its own merits, just like all other countries in the region that share your goal of becoming EU members one day,” Tusk said.

Most EU members states back talks for Albania but some worry about its fight against corruption and organised crime, so Tusk urged Rama to maintain a solid track record in fighting crime and also fostering good neighbourly relations.

With six Western Balkan countries aspiring to join the EU now surrounded by EU members, Tusk said Europe would benefit from the accession of Albania and other countries.

“Because there will be no stable and safe Europe without the integration of all the Balkans in the EU. What is at stake is our common future. And no one is doing anyone any favours here”.

Reporting by Benet Koleka in Tirana; Editing by Matthew Lewis

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