Macron: EU summit decides to back Iran deal, protect European businesses

French President Emmanuel Macron arrives for an informal dinner ahead of a summit with leaders of the six Western Balkans countries in Sofia Bulgaria

The European Union has to further promote its influence in the Western Balkans as otherwise, the regional states would turn to Russian Federation or Turkey, French President Emmanuel Macron said on Thursday.

"It is clear that all these countries have a clear accession perspective to the European Union", said German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is a strong supporter of bringing the Western Balkans in.

"There's no plan B, there's no other alternative".

The EU is expected to announce a "Sofia Programme for the Western Balkans", which will include all infrastructure projects, with data about their deadlines and financing, he added.

During the summit, the European Union is expected to commit to investing in infrastructure to increase connectivity with the Western Balkans.

The EU and the Western Balkans partners acknowledge that results in fighting corruption and organised crime are essential for the region's political and socio-economic transformation and also for regional stability and security, which are in the best interest of their citizens.

In public some European leaders played down the chances of a quick accession for the six Balkan states not in the EU while others warned of the dangers of losing the region. "But I think we need to look at any new enlargement with a lot of prudence and rigor", Macron said.

In a declaration, EU leaders and member states agreed that the bloc welcomes the shared commitment of the Western Balkans partners to European values and principles, and to the vision of a strong, stable and united Europe.

The Balkans have moved back up the EU's agenda as leaders have become alarmed at the influence of other powers on its southern flank, particularly Russian Federation. "More important is the progress that has been achieved by the candidates", she told reporters. The 2015 migration crisis - in which hundreds of thousands entered the European Union via the western Balkan route - also provided a stark reminder of the region's importance to the bloc's own stability. They also differ on the potential timeline for accepting new members from the region.

"I am in favor of the western Balkan countries having a reinforced strategic dialogue and a perspective, that we follow the reforms that are undertaken and that we encourage them - but without being lax or hypocritical", he added.

"I believe that it took us too long since our last meeting in Thessaloniki 15 years ago, and this is why we chose to meet again in two years in Croatia".

Spain's prime minister is staying away because his country, roiled by the Catalan independence drive, does not recognise Kosovo's 2008 split from Serbia.

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