BRDO PRI KRANJU, Slovenia (AP) — France's President Francois Hollande joined a meeting of Balkan leaders Thursday to show support for further integration into the European Union of the troubled region that was ravaged by a war two decades ago.
Hollande attended the meeting during an official visit to Slovenia. He said the decision to join was "an expression of support of France to further integration of the Balkans into the EU." "Today's meeting is a message of hope for the people of the Balkans, they are carrying a heavy experience," Hollande said at a press conference.
Thursday's talks were part of efforts by the region's states to jointly speed up the EU integration process and resolve issues left over from the conflict of the 1990s'. Another similar informal meeting was held in early July.
Admission to the EU is considered key to lasting stability in the region which is still reeling from the ethnic bloodshed that claimed more than 100,000 lives, left millions homeless and shattered the regional economies.
Slovenia and Croatia are the only former Yugoslav republics that have joined the EU. Croatia became the 28th EU member state on July 1. The two countries have pledged to help others move forward. Among the issues weighing on regional ties is the dispute between Serbia and its former province of Kosovo, which declared independence in 2008 without Serbia's consent. Macedonia's name dispute with Greece has blocked its road toward the EU, while Bosnia has been lagging behind as bickering between its Serb, Muslim and Croat politicians has snarled government activity.
Lured by the possibility of EU membership, Serbia and Kosovo in April signed an agreement normalizing their ties. The move was hailed as a historic accord between the former foes. Hollande will later hold talks with top officials in Slovenia. The small Alpine nation is struggling to avoid needing an international bailout as it battles an economic and financial crisis.
Jovana Gec contributed from Serbia and Ali Zerdin from Ljubljana, Slovenia.