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EU’s Borrell says Western Balkans’ accession a priority

March 14, 2022 GMT
European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell, left, shake hands with North Macedonia's President Stevo Pendarovski, right, upon his arrival at the Presidential office in Skopje, North Macedonia, Monday, March 14, 2022. The EU top official has started Monday his Western Balkan tour visiting North Macedonia and then Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina in a bid to reaffirm the EU's commitment and support to the region, also in view of the Russian war against Ukraine and its impact on the security of Europe as a whole. (AP Photo/Boris Grdanoski)
European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell, left, shake hands with North Macedonia's President Stevo Pendarovski, right, upon his arrival at the Presidential office in Skopje, North Macedonia, Monday, March 14, 2022. The EU top official has started Monday his Western Balkan tour visiting North Macedonia and then Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina in a bid to reaffirm the EU's commitment and support to the region, also in view of the Russian war against Ukraine and its impact on the security of Europe as a whole. (AP Photo/Boris Grdanoski)
European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell, left, shake hands with North Macedonia's President Stevo Pendarovski, right, upon his arrival at the Presidential office in Skopje, North Macedonia, Monday, March 14, 2022. The EU top official has started Monday his Western Balkan tour visiting North Macedonia and then Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina in a bid to reaffirm the EU's commitment and support to the region, also in view of the Russian war against Ukraine and its impact on the security of Europe as a whole. (AP Photo/Boris Grdanoski)
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European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell, left, shake hands with North Macedonia's President Stevo Pendarovski, right, upon his arrival at the Presidential office in Skopje, North Macedonia, Monday, March 14, 2022. The EU top official has started Monday his Western Balkan tour visiting North Macedonia and then Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina in a bid to reaffirm the EU's commitment and support to the region, also in view of the Russian war against Ukraine and its impact on the security of Europe as a whole. (AP Photo/Boris Grdanoski)
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European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell, left, shake hands with North Macedonia's President Stevo Pendarovski, right, upon his arrival at the Presidential office in Skopje, North Macedonia, Monday, March 14, 2022. The EU top official has started Monday his Western Balkan tour visiting North Macedonia and then Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina in a bid to reaffirm the EU's commitment and support to the region, also in view of the Russian war against Ukraine and its impact on the security of Europe as a whole. (AP Photo/Boris Grdanoski)

SKOPJE, North Macedonia (AP) — The European Union’s foreign policy chief on Monday reaffirmed the 27-country bloc’s desire to integrate the Western Balkans, saying it’s a “strategic priority.”

Josep Borrell said Brussels is committed to making the “EU perspective a reality” for the region.

“This is the moment to reinvigorate the enlargement process and to anchor the Western Balkans firmly to the EU,” Borrell said following talks in North Macedonia with the country’s prime minister, Dimitar Kovachevski.

Borrell was in North Macedonia’s capital, Skopje, on the first leg of a Western Balkan tour that will include Albania and Bosnia.

He urged North Macedonia and neighboring Bulgaria, an EU member, to resolve a dispute that’s hindering North Macedonia’s bid to join the bloc.

In 2020, Bulgaria vetoed the start of its small neighbor’s formal EU accession talks, arguing that Skopje had failed to honor parts of a 2017 friendship deal, particularly regarding shared history, and language.

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This was resented in Skopje, which had recently settled a similar, decades-old dispute with neighboring EU member Greece that had cleared the way for North Macedonia to seek bloc membership. Under that deal, the country changed its name from the previous “Macedonia,” which Greece had said implied claims on its own territory and history.

Six Western Balkan countries — Albania, Bosnia, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia — are on different stages in their quests to join the EU. Serbia and Montenegro have made the greatest progress, while Albania’s bid, being tied to North Macedonia’s, has also been blocked by the dispute with Bulgaria.