Ratas attending EU-Western Balkans summit in Sofia

Belgrade and Zemun

It is one of the five Member States that do not recognize Kosovo's independence.

Tusk said that it had been "too long" since the previous such gathering of European Union and Western Balkans leaders, in the Greek city of Thessaloniki 15 years ago, which was why the leaders had agreed that the next such meeting should be in Croatia two years from now.

The six countries - Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia - received less encouragement than they had hoped for of the EU's renewed commitment to the region.

According to a draft statement seen by RFE/RL, the agreed compromise is that it would be called "the Sofia declaration" but with a statement in brackets, after the 16 points of the declaration, saying that "we note that our Western Balkans partners align themselves with the above points". "And I don't think we do a service to the candidate countries or ourselves by having a mechanism that in a way no longer has rules and keeps moving toward more enlargement", Macron told reporters at the summit in the Bulgarian capital Sofia.

In the summit declaration, a draft of which was obtained by AFP, the Europeans outlined the theme of "connectivity" with investments in transport and infrastructure.

European Council President Donald Tusk speaks during a media conference at the conclusion of an EU and Western Balkan heads of state summit at the National Palace of Culture in Sofia, Bulgaria, May 17, 2018.

"It is the way to use more effectively the time between now and tomorrow. There is no other alternative, there is no plan B".

For the previous year, the stagnation of many countries in the region towards European Union membership has been overcome.

But the six countries are growing increasingly impatient for a path to membership.

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The Prime Minister added that the next Western Balkans summit, due to be held in London in July, would address issues including corruption, organised crime and economic stability. Also, five European Union countries do not recognize Kosovo, the former Serbian republic that declared independence in 2008.

The EU accession talks with Serbia and Montenegro are in the most advanced stage and an agreement for their entry into the bloc by 2025 is possible, Tajani said on Thursday.

"This is not a subject for Sofia", a senior European Union official insisted, adding that membership issues would be discussed in June when leaders decide whether to approve accession negotiations with Albania and Macedonia.

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, whose country will take over the EU's rotating presidency in July, stressed the importance of keeping the door open.

"The summit may be a symbolic act, but it can again trigger a little more dynamism", he said.

"If there is no European perspective in the Balkans, the influence of Turkey will increase and that will cause many problems". "This would demotivate them and this is exactly what we don't want".

The EU is also wary of admitting new members before they settle their differences, particularly in a region still bedevilled by the aftermath of the bloody break-up of Yugoslavia in the 1990s.

These include a bitter and long-running dispute between Macedonia and EU-member Greece over its name, which Athens insists refers to its own northern province.

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