Merkel Says Post-Brexit EU Must Remain Open to Balkan Nations

  • German chancellor, France’s Hollande meet leaders in Paris
  • Western Balkans push is German initiative begun in 2014

Angela Merkel.

Photographer: John MacDougall/AFP via Getty Images

German Chancellor Angela Merkel assured countries in southeastern Europe she’s committed to bringing them into the European Union, even as the bloc grapples with the crisis caused by the U.K.’s vote to leave.

Merkel’s comments at a western Balkans conference hosted by French President Francois Hollande in Paris on Monday signal that Germany is maintaining a diplomatic push to stabilize the region that has intensified since Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014. Participants included leaders of five parts of former Yugoslavia and Albania.

“It was very important to these countries that we all emphasized that the membership perspective of the western Balkan states remains intact,” Merkel told reporters. “The decision in Britain doesn’t change that in any way. That’s what these countries were fearing.”

Participants signed an agreement to step up youth exchanges as a way to overcome the legacy of wars that ravaged the region in the 1990s and break down ethnic and national barriers. “We’re dealing with political processes that still aren’t easy,” Merkel said.

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