The German chancellor has called for the European Union to swiftly conclusion access talks with the western Balkans countries and welcome them as members.
Speaking on Monday Olaf Scholz, who took over from Angela Merkel last year, said North Macedonia and Albania should be allowed to join.
“Every further delay makes Western Balkans more vulnerable to third party influence,” Mr Scholz, a social democrat, said at a joint press conference following a meeting with the Swedish prime minister Magdalena Andersson.
“It is clear for both Germany and Sweden that the EU must push ahead with institutional reforms to make itself capable of enlargement.”
His comments come as EU enlargement shoots up the agenda thanks to the Russian invasion of Ukraine – which wants to join the bloc.
Albania and North Macedonia have been candidate countries for joining the EU since 2020, but they have made little progress in the labyrinthine process.
EU authorities have concerns that the Western Balkan states do not meet standards for corruption, politicisation of the judiciary, and rule of law.
The 27 EU presidents and prime ministers did not focus on EU accession at last week European Council summit in Brussels – instead spending time on the war in Ukraine and the energy crisis.
Last week Mr Scholz also said the Western Balkans should be admitted EU membership to secure peace.
But other countries such as France are more sceptical of enlarging the union, at least in its current state. French president Emmanuel Macron has previously said the enlargement process is not fit for purpose and briefed vetoed any enlargement.