By Ingrid Melander and Elizabeth Pineau
PARIS (Reuters) – European Union leaders on Monday sought to reassure Balkan nations that talks on their becoming members of the bloc would continue despite Britain’s vote to leave the union.
French President Francois Hollande, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini held a meeting with Balkan leaders in Paris during which they underlined their determination to continue the accession talks.
“Nothing has changed with Britain’s decision,” Merkel told leaders of Albania, Bosnia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia, which endured war and upheaval in the 1990s and are all eyeing EU accession.
Hollande told a news conference: “I’d like to reassure those countries that the process will remain underway,” he said.
The six countries are all at different stages in joining the EU. Serbia aims to complete accession talks by 2019. Croatia and Slovenia are already EU members.
Balkans leaders told journalists the negotiation talks should continue and they did not fear that would be stopped by Brexit.
“In the Balkans we are not afraid of anything,” Prime Minister Edi Rama said adding he hoped the UK referendum would convince EU leaders that “more Europe is needed.”
Backing for the EU in Kosovo and Albania is between 80 and 90 percent, levels that British supporters of EU membership could only have dreamt of.
In Serbia, another aspiring EU member, support for the bloc is less clear-cut.
“We don’t have a subservient relationship to the union. But that is the place where the future is the best for our people and our countries,” Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic said.
Macedonian Foreign Minister Nikola Poposki said he regretted Britain’s decision to leave the EU.
“We are losing an ally, a country that has been strongly supporting enlargement. But the idea of enlargement continuing should not be affected,” he told Reuters.
(Additional reporting by Bate Felix in Paris, Andreas Rinke and Michelle Martin in Berlin; Writing by Ingrid Melander, editing by Larry King)