BELGRADE (Reuters) – European Council President Charles Michel said on Thursday the European Union would back Serbia’s quicker accession to the wealthy bloc and help the Balkan country dependent on Russian gas and oil diversify its supplies energy.
“We need to speed up EU integration and we need to create incentives for reforms,” Michel said in Belgrade, his first stop on a tour of Western Balkan countries, at a joint press conference with Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic.
Until the accession procedure is finalized, the Western Balkan countries should cooperate with the 27-member bloc as part of a new geopolitical community, a transitional political platform that Michel proposed to the candidate countries to the EU.
He said the new platform would not replace EU membership but would be a useful tool for the EU to discuss common challenges with Balkan countries, such as the energy crisis caused by the war in Ukraine. and sanctions against Russia, Europe’s main gas supplier.
Michel said the EU would help EU candidate Serbia, which depends almost entirely on Russian gas and oil supplies, to diversify its gas supplies.
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Vucic said at the same press conference that Michel strongly urged Serbia, the only country in Europe not to have imposed sanctions against Russia, to join the sanctions imposed by the EU for its invasion of Ukraine, which Russia calls a “special military operation”.
Vucic, who has repeatedly complained about pressure from world powers on Serbia over its refusal to join sanctions against its traditional Orthodox and Slavic Christian ally Russia, said he explained Serbia’s position on the question to Michel but did not give details.
Serbia is in a delicate exercise of balancing its European aspirations, its partnership with NATO and its age-old alliance with Russia, but many in Europe say it is high time for it to choose sides.
(Reporting by Daria Sito-Sucic in Sarajevo; Editing by Mark Potter)
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