NEWS

Green light for Western Balkans

Albania and most of what used to be Yugoslavia were promised eventual European Union membership by EU leaders at the Halkidiki summit on Saturday, while at the same time being urged to improve democratic structures, crack down on crime and pursue ethnic reconciliation. «We consider the integration of the Balkans into the European Union as a necessity,» Premier Costas Simitis said after the EU-Western Balkans meeting at the Porto Carras hotel resort on the Sithonia Peninsula. «The process of European unification cannot be completed unless the Western Balkan states are included,» European Commission President Romano Prodi added. EU officials conferred with leaders from Serbia-Montenegro, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, and Albania, in the second meeting of its sort. The first was in Zagreb. While the 15-strong union promised to provide over 200 million euros in financial aid to the five countries between 2004-2006, in addition to the political will for their integration, top officials pressed for hard work in Western Balkan capitals. «An intense effort is required on the part of [the Western Balkans] to complete the necessary procedure,» Simitis said, adding that the five countries will have to match the criteria set during the December 2002 EU Copenhagen summit, «as well as other economic, social and institutional criteria.» «We must work to overcome the difficulties, the enmities and the rivalries,» the PM said, when questioned on the prospects of Serbia-Montenegro’s accession before the status of Kosovo is fully clarified. «It is not necessary for the question to be fully solved immediately, but we must be certain that the process is truly continuing and that the problem will be overcome.»