EU leader tours Western Balkans and Serbia to seek more influence

AFP - JOHN THYS

The European Union is in the midst of yet another goodwill trip through the Western Balkans to drum up support for the bloc and to make sure that Europe's historical tinderbox is not about to pick the side of hostile Russia or strategic rival China in the world of geopolitics.

EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen will on Friday stop in Serbia, by far the most important nation in the southern region, during her whirlwind six-nation tour.

Serbia has shown scant regard for solidarity in joining EU sanctions against Russia for its invasion of Ukraine.

For years, the 27-nation EU has been caught in two minds over the Western Balkans. The bloc is seeking to pull them close as allies and hold off foreign interference, but also keep them at arm's length since their weaker economies and political institutions are far from ready to seamlessly integrate into the EU's single market of open trade and Western democratic ideals.

For Serbia, a traditional ally of Russia, there's an extra complication: Kosovo.

Serbia and its former province still have a bitter relationship two decades after the 1990s Kosovo war led to Pristina breaking away and later declaring independence.

Belgrade refuses to recognise Kosovo, still considering it to be Serbia's southern province, despite a majority of European Union countries and the US recognising it as a sovereign nation.

Talks have continued, but did not yield any concrete result yet.

That has turned several Balkan nations into EU sceptics.

(With AP)


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