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Summit in Tirana/AP: Enlargement is back on the EU agenda. Experts: None of the countries are close to integration


Summit in Tirana/AP: Enlargement is back on the EU agenda. Experts: None of the

The war in Ukraine has put the expansion of the European Union at the top of the agenda, while officials from the Western Balkans and EU leaders gather on Tuesday for a summit aimed at revitalizing the process, AP writes.

The EU Executive Commission has repeatedly promised Albania, Bosnia, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia that their future is within the bloc. But the six countries' progress on EU integration has stalled in recent years.

The EU last admitted a new member, Croatia, which is also part of the Balkans, in 2013. Before that, Bulgaria and Romania joined in 2007. With the UK's withdrawal in 2021, the EU now has 27 member countries.

Although differences between them over the pace of accession talks and some complicated bilateral issues remain, EU officials feel it is more important than ever to make it clear that the six Western Balkan countries belong to the European family, so that they not to turn into disappointment towards Russia or China.

But the problem for countries-in-waiting is that the EU has not considered their economies and political institutions ready for integration into the EU's common market of open trade and Western democratic ideals.

"None are close to EU membership. All of them must overcome substantial hurdles to meet the Copenhagen criteria, which set EU standards for strong democratic institutions, a functioning market economy and the ability to take on the obligations of membership," said Luigi Scazzieri, a researcher at the Center for European Reform, a London-based think tank.

Discussions at Tuesday's meeting in Albania's capital, Tirana, are also expected to focus on the negative effects on energy and food security from Russia's war in Ukraine.

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