EU, U.S. reject redrawing of Western Balkans borders

·2-min read
FILE PHOTO: European Union flags flutter outside the European Commission headquarters in Brussels

BRUSSELS (Reuters) -The European Union and the United States on Monday rejected the idea of redrawing borders in Western Balkans, after an unofficial diplomatic note proposing to break up Bosnia and merge Kosovo with Albania was circulated among EU officials.

The document, which has been seen by Reuters, proposes incorporating parts of Bosnia into Serbia and Croatia to help the region's EU integration.

The discussion alarmed Bosnians, who saw it as a threat to their country's territorial unity, two decades after ethnic conflicts led to war in the region.

Reuters was not able to independently verify the authenticity of the note, which has not been officially claimed by any country.

"We are absolutely not in favour of any changes in borders," European Commission Chief Spokesman Eric Mamer told a news conference.

The United States warned that moving the borders risked exacerbating tensions in the region.

"Recent unwarranted speculation about changing borders in the Balkans along ethnic lines risks fostering instability in the region and evokes memories of past tensions," U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a statement.

Two former Yugoslav republics, Croatia and Slovenia, have joined the EU. Montenegro, Serbia, North Macedonia, Bosnia, Albania and Kosovo also hope to accede.

The EU says they must first settle their neighbourly conflicts and advance democratic reforms before they can join. But it is keen to keep close ties with the region on its doorstep where Russia and China are also building influence.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said separately on Monday after talks with Serbian President Alexander Vucic in Brussels that the EU wants to "continue to see positive developments in rule of law" in Serbia as part of accession talks.

The two discussed Belgrade's talks with Kosovo, a country that used to be part of Serbia and the independence of which is not recognised by several EU countries, including Spain.

The leaders of North Macedonia and Kosovo are also due in Brussels this week.

Von der Leyen said the bloc would support the construction of a railway between Belgrade and North Macedonia, which saw its hopes to formally start membership negotiations with the EU dashed last year after a veto from Bulgaria.

Supporters of rewarding Skopje for settling its name dispute with another EU country, Greece, hope that a new Bulgarian government could reverse course but no swift change is likely given an ongoing political crisis in Sofia.

(Reporting by Gabriela BaczynskaEditing by John Chalmers, Toby Chopra and Sonya Hepinstall)