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Western Balkans leaders to sign deals on closer integration in Berlin

german foreign minister baerbock presides over a conference with her counterparts from europe, in berlin
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock poses for a family picture with her counterparts from the six Western Balkans countries, plus those from Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Greece and Slovenia, in Berlin, Germany, October 21, 2022. REUTERS/Christian Mang

Western Balkans leaders are set to sign three agreements on mutual recognition of identity cards, university degrees and professional qualifications at a summit in Berlin on Thursday, German government officials said.

Moves towards closer integration aim to bring greater stability to a region that emerged from the break-up of Yugoslavia and the ethnic wars of the 1990s and is still wracked by tensions.

They also aim to bring Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia-Herzegovina, North Macedonia, Kosovo and Albania closer to their stated goal of joining the neighboring European Union amid fears about the rising influence of Russia and China in the region.

Serbia in particular, which was bombed by NATO two decades ago, has long struggled to balance historically close ties with Russia against aspirations for economic and political integration with the West.

One of the German government officials said on Tuesday that Serbia must decide whether it wants to join the European Union or enter into a partnership with Russia.

“The need for a decision is coming to a head in view of geopolitical developments,” the official said in reference to Russia’s war in Ukraine.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz is due to receive leaders of the six Balkan countries and the EU in Berlin on Thursday as a revival of the so-called “Berlin Process” that his predecessor Angela Merkel put in motion.

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