German president says Europe must stay committed to Balkans

June 3, 2017
Slovenia's president Borut Pahor, right, walks with his German counterpart Frank-Walter Steinmeier, center right, Croatia's president Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic, center left and member of Bosnia-Herzegovina presidency Dragan Covic, in Brdo, Slovenia, Saturday, June 3, 2017. The presidents of the Western Balkans countries got together for a Brdo-Brijuni Process meeting, hosted by the Slovenian and Croatian presidents, with German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier as a special guest. (Nebojsa Tejic, STA via AP)

BRDO PRI KRANJU, Slovenia (AP) — Despite its own many problems, Europe should remain committed to the western Balkans amid renewed tensions stemming from the wars of the 1990s, Germany’s president said Saturday.

Frank-Walter Steinmeier spoke in Slovenia after a European Union-backed meeting of Balkan leaders designed to boost cooperation in the troubled region. A joint statement called for further EU integration, strengthening of dialogue and refraining from “nationalistic and inflammatory rhetoric.”

Steinmeier said in comments translated into English that “the discussion today has shown that the past has not been fully overcome.” He also warned that “what happens in this region and also what doesn’t happen is going to concern us and is going to have an impact on us.”

“Peace, stability and economic development in the region should be high on our agenda,” he said. “We have not forgotten the conflict. We have not forgotten the violence in this region.”

Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Kosovo make up the western Balkans, where the wars in the 1990s’ left some 100,000 people dead and millions homeless.

The EU has hoped that the prospect of EU membership will help steady and prevent conflicts in the Balkans.

However, there have been concerns that the bloc has been too busy with its own problems, enabling Russia to increase its traditional influence in the region.

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