BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — Spain’s prime minister kicked off a tour of the Western Balkans on Friday with a visit to Serbia, offering his country’s support for the volatile region’s integration into the European Union.
Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez spoke with Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic in Belgrade ahead of his visits to Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Albania in the coming days.
The Balkan countries are all at different stages of the EU accession process. EU officials have recently sought to encourage governments in the region to press ahead with reforms amid concerns over Russia’s efforts to boost its influence in the Balkans.
Serbia remains one of the few European countries that has kept friendly ties with Russia despite its invasion of Ukraine and has refused to join Western sanctions against Russia.
Sanchez said the war in Ukraine has prompted the EU to rethink its enlargement policies and open its doors to Eastern European countries – Ukraine and Moldova recently became official candidates for membership – and in the Western Balkans.
Sanchez said his tour aimed to send a message that Serbia and the rest of the Western Balkans “belong to Europe”.
“You have an ally in Spain who will support you in your efforts to join the European Union,” Sanchez said in a joint press conference with Vucic. He described relations with Serbia as “excellent”.
Vucic said: “Serbia considers Spain a true friend, one of its greatest friends in the world.”
Spain is among a handful of EU countries that have not recognized the independence of the former Serbian province of Kosovo, which has won support from the United States and most of the EU. EU.
Kosovo declared independence in 2008, a decade after its ethnic Albanian majority launched a rebellion against Serbian rule, triggering a brutal crackdown by Belgrade. The conflict claimed more than 10,000 lives before NATO bombed Serbia to force it to cede control of the territory.
As Spain faces its own separatist movements, Sanchez said his government believes in respecting territorial integrity. He called for a resolution of the Kosovo conflict through continued dialogue under the aegis of the EU.
The two leaders also announced plans for Serbia and Spain to hold a business forum in October.
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