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Scholz heads to Western Balkans to help EU membership bid

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German Chancellor Olaf Scholz sets off on a two-day tour of the Western Balkans on Friday in a bid to help reinvigorate their long-stalled campaign for European Union membership, ease regional tensions and fend off the influence of rival powers such as Russia, according to Reuters.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has lent a new sense of urgency to the need to tie Montenegro, Serbia, Albania, North Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo closer to the 27-member EU, whether through full membership or an alternative community.

Scholz’s visit comes hot on the heels of that of European Council President Charles Michel and ahead of an EU-Western Balkans leaders’ summit on June 23. 

The prospect of EU membership had for years been the main driver of reform and greater cooperation in the region after a decade of war and upheaval in the 1990s, until EU expansion stalled, spawning disillusionment.

Unresolved conflicts there have given rise to new tensions lately, such as the pro-Russian Bosnian Serbs’ secession plans.

Scholz’s government, which took office in December, has made the Western Balkans’ EU accession a foreign policy priority.

Scholz will visit first Kosovo and then Serbia on Friday, after meeting with the leaders of both countries last month in Berlin.

On Saturday, he travels on to North Macedonia and Bulgaria, which are locked in a dispute preventing the start of accession talks for the former country.