ATHENS – The Western Balkan countries belong in the European Union, and this prospect expressed in the Declaration of Thessaloniki in 2003 must be kept alive, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said on Wednesday, at the EU-Western Balkans summit.
Originally scheduled to take place in Zagreb, the summit was held by video conference due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Noting that it was Greece that first initiated and supported the integration of the Western Balkans in the EU, Mitsotakis said, "The Thessaloniki document is still valid, 17 years later, while for Greece the European integration of the Western Balkans is a strategic choice."
The Greek premier called on North Macedonia to fully implement the Prespes Agreement with Greece as part of its obligations towards the start of accession talks, saying that "relations of good neighborhood is the only way leading to the European future of North Macedonia."
Referrring to Albania, he acknowledged the country's progress in fulfilling its obligations, but noted it was not enough. Mitsotakis said he expected Albania to also respect the rights of the Greek ethnic minority there, as part of its process towards the accession talks.
Mitsotakis called on Europe to fulfill its obligations in managing the migration crisis also. "Greece has shouldered a great burden in the migration. We did our duty, and we expect others to do the same," the Greek premier said. He also asked for the collaboration of Western Balkan countries on the issue of undocumented migration.
According to an EU statement, the Zagreb summit's objectives were to "underline the significance of the unique EU-Western Balkans relations," particularly in fighting jointly the Covid-19 pandemic.
"In the fight against COVID-19, the European Union and the Western Balkans are united," a statement by the European Union said earlier. "The summit will provide an opportunity to highlight mutual solidarity and cooperation in these time of crisis. Partners in the region have contributed to help EU member states while the European Union has mobilised over 3.3 billion euros to help Western Balkans deal with the coronavirus crisis."
A press conference is expected after the meeting.