Spain fully backs Western Balkan integration into EU

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Spain's Prime Minister, Pedro Sanchez, left, and his Albanian counterpart Edi Rama talk during the welcoming ceremony at the government headquarters in Tirana, Albania, Monday, Aug. 1, 2022. Sanchez is in Albania for a one-day official visit. (AP Photo/Franc Zhurda)

The Western Balkans are an integral part of the European Union and Spain fully backs the region's integration into the 27-member bloc, Spain's prime minister said Monday.

Pedro Sanchez was in Albania's capital Tirana Monday in the first-ever trip by a Spanish prime minister to the country. The stop in Albania was the last leg of Sanchez's Western Balkan trip that earlier took him to Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro and North Macedonia.

“The EU cannot be conceived without the Balkans,” Sanchez said at the news conference with Albanian counterpart Edi Rama. “Balkans’ incorporation will strengthen and add EU members.”

The 27-member bloc agreed to launch the accession talks with Albania and North Macedonia late last month, a long-delayed step in the Balkan nations’ paths toward EU membership that gained momentum amid the war in Ukraine.

Western Balkan countries are at different stages of EU integration. Serbia and Montenegro already have started the talks while Bosnia and Kosovo have only signed the Stabilization and Association Agreement, the first step in the long process.

EU officials have recently sought to encourage governments in the region to move on with reforms amid concerns over Russia’s efforts to boost its influence in the Balkans.

The Albanian prime minister Edi Rama said that because of Russia’s influence in the region, Western Balkan countries should be “determined to continue the road of strengthening ties that build peace."

Albania has fully aligned itself with with all EU sanctions on Russia. Sanchez said those sanctions aren't aimed against the Russian people, but intended to force their leaders “to return to reality and abandon the path of war.”