EU leaders to restate membership guarantee for Balkans at summit, officials say

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FILE PHOTO: EU flag lies at Schuman square in Brussels

By Robin Emmott

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - European Union leaders will be able to restate their guarantee of future membership to six Balkan countries on Wednesday at a summit in Slovenia, after EU ambassadors overcame divisions, two EU officials said.

After weeks of disagreement over the wording of a summit declaration for Wednesday's gathering of EU and Balkan leaders, envoys from the EU's 27 states reached a deal to "reconfirm ... their unequivocal support for a European perspective," the official said.

Reuters reported on Sept. 28 that the impasse over the declaration was seen as a reflection of the lack of enthusiasm in EU capitals for bringing Serbia, Kosovo, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro, Albania and North Macedonia into the bloc. [nL8N2QU1R3]

A second EU official said that while there was now agreement on a summit declaration, the EU's strategy of enlarging its community south-eastward faced obstacles, even if officially the door is open to those who meet the membership criteria.

"I can't say everything is fine," the official said, noting reluctance among some member states to see further enlargement of the bloc. "There are of course many issues but you also can't say the door is closed."

EU states have declined to disclose their positions on the summit declaration negotiations, although Slovenia, which holds the EU presidency, sought to include a commitment that the bloc take in the six Balkan states by 2030, according to a draft seen by Reuters.

The second EU official said that had not been successful.

Wealthy northern countries fear a repeat of the rushed accession of Romania and Bulgaria in 2007 and the poorly managed migration of eastern European workers to Britain that turned many Britons against the EU.

Bulgaria is against North Macedonia joining because of a language dispute, meaning even with the summit declaration's approval, diplomats do not expect any progress soon.

(Additional reporting John Chalmers; Editing by Andrea Ricci)

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