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Zagreb Summit - A European perspective for Southeast European countries

News agencies , Photo: FENA/HINA

BRUSSELS, May 6 (FENA) - The leaders of the 27 EU Member States and six Western Balkan countries will hold a video conference on Wednesday to reaffirm the European perspective of Southeast European countries.

The video conference is being held instead of the actual summit scheduled for May 6 and 7 in Zagreb, but the coronavirus pandemic has changed those plans. The virtual meeting should start at 4.30 pm and last until 7.30 pm.

The meeting will be chaired by the European Council President Charles Michel. After the meeting, a joint press conference is scheduled for Charles Michel, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenković, representing the EU Council Presidency, Croatian News Agency HINA reports.

In addition to Michel and von der Leyen, the European institutions will be represented by High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy Josep Borrell, President of the European Parliament David Sassoli, representatives of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the World Bank, the European Investment Bank and the Regional Cooperation Council.

Alongside the leaders of the 27 EU Member States, participation in the meeting was confirmed by Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama, the BiH Presidency Chairman Šefik Džaferović, Kosovo President Hashim Thaci, Montenegrin President Milo Đukanović, Macedonian Prime Minister Oliver Spasovski and Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić.

At the virtual meeting, participants will accept the Zagreb Declaration, which will once again confirm the European perspective of the Western Balkan countries.

"The European Union reaffirms its unequivocal support for the European perspective of the Western Balkans. The Western Balkan partners reiterated their commitment to the European perspective as their firm strategic choice," it is said in the draft of the Zagreb declaration, as HINA reports having insight into the document.

The virtual summit takes place 20 years after the 2000 Zagreb Summit, when the first meeting of EU leaders outside EU territory was held. Three years after Zagreb, the EU-Western Balkans summit was again held in Thessaloniki in 2003, followed by a 15-year hiatus, until 2018, when such a meeting was held in Sofia again.

Of the countries covered by the Stabilization and Association Process, that is, the countries created by the breakup of Yugoslavia without Slovenia, plus Albania, to which the European perspective was promised in Thessaloniki, only Croatia has succeeded in becoming a member.

At the moment, accession negotiations with Serbia and Montenegro are underway. Just over a month ago the EU Council decided to open negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia, but they do not yet have a date for the first accession talks conference.

Bosnia and Herzegovina applied for membership in 2016, and the European Commission has issued an Opinion on the request, with a long list of tasks that the country must complete in order to become a candidate for membership.

Kosovo is in the worst situation, since it is not recognized by five member states, and Kosovo's citizens are the only ones in the region that must have visas to enter the EU.

Initially, at the Zagreb Summit, the Commission planned to present an economic and investment plan for the region, which would seek to launch a long-term recovery, boost economic growth and support the reforms needed to make further progress towards the EU. This has now been delayed because of the coronavirus pandemic.