By Talha Ozturk
European Union and Western Balkans leaders are meeting in Sofia, Bulgaria Thursday for their first summit in 15 years, focusing on European integration, as well as closer cooperation in the region.
According to the EU's official announcement, the theme of the one-day EU-Western Balkans summit, organized within the Bulgarian Presidency of the Council of the European Union, is linked with the goal of improving the EU's relations with the Western Balkans, but also within the region, especially in the field of infrastructure, and between people and the digital sphere.
The summit is being attended by leaders from the Western Balkans -- Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia, and Kosovo, none of them EU members -- as well as heads of state and government of member states and top EU officials.
"The goal of the summit is to confirm a clear European perspective for the Western Balkans, but without creating false expectations. The process of joining the EU for each country will continue on the established path and the progress of each country will be assessed individually and objectively and in line with the criteria," said the announcement of the summit.
The EU has held out the prospect of greater integration for the region amid the bloc's worries about Russia's influence.
The summit announcement said that the European perspective of the Western Balkans is one of the four priorities of the Bulgarian presidency.
"The stability and prosperity of the Western Balkans are equally the interest of the EU, as well as the interests of citizens in the region, because they are a prerequisite for peace and prosperity in Europe," the summit announcement said.
Participating at the summit are leaders from the six non-EU states from the region. The host of the meeting is Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov, and the chair is European Council President Donald Tusk. He represents the EU together with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker.
Also participating are European Parliament President Antonio Tajani, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, European Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighborhood Policy Johannes Hahn, and representatives of the World Bank.
The summit began with a plenary session on connectivity, followed by a working lunch.
A press conference by Tusk and Juncker and Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov will conclude the summit.