Macron pours cold water on Balkan EU membership hopes

European Union leaders are meeting their counterparts from six Balkan countries in Sofia, a day after a dinner that sought to forge a united front in the face of US President Donald Trump's "capricious assertiveness" on the Iran nuclear deal and trade tariffs.

"The EU welcomes their commitment to take resolute action, in cooperation with the EU and with each other, against human trafficking, drug cultivation, and smuggling of human beings, drugs and arms", it said. "But I think we need to consider any new extension with great care and rigor". We must help the countries that are reforming and moving towards Europe.

In a statement, Total said: "We will not continue the SP11 (South Pars 11) gas project and will have to unwind all related operations before November 4, 2018, unless Total is granted a specific project waiver by United States authorities with the support of the French and European authorities".

French President Emmanuel Macron echoed this, saying that he did not favour movement before "we have all certainties and genuine reforms made". However, the other Balkan countries do not know the schedule of their joining the Union.

Asked on arrival at a summit of European Union leaders in Bulgaria if he was concerned about an announcement by French oil major Total that it may pull out of Iran after Washington pulled out of an EU-backed nuclear accord, Macron said it was up to firms active in various markets to make their own decisions.

Tajani's main problems have highlighted illegal migration and terrorism. "The EU is and will continue to be the most important partner for the Western Balkans".

It "reaffirms EU's unequivocal support for the European perspective of the Western Balkans", and states tasks and principles the sides should meet during the process of EU integration. He added that the EP is strongly committed. "We have a lot of candidates for membership, but Serbia and Montenegro are in the first place".

"We do not stand as an obstacle, but we are helping to move in the European direction - against corruption, the rule of law, freedom of the media", the EP President concluded.

"If there is no European perspective in the Balkans, the influence of Turkey will increase and that will cause many problems".

Under the preliminary calculations, the projects have a combined value of 30 billion euro, Tajani said speaking through an interpreter during a news conference on the sidelines of the EU - Western Balkans summit in Sofia broadcast by Bulgarian TV channel Kanal 3.

Unlocking talks for Macedonia - officially known as the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) - could also be tricky for the European Union as they squabble over naming. I see no future for the Western Balkans other than the European.

Hosted by the Prime Minister of Bulgaria, Boyko Borissov and chaired by Donald Tusk, President of the European Council, the event is also set to play host to a number of prominent individuals from Europe's political sphere such as Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission, Werner Hoyer, the President of the European Investment Bank and the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini.

Leaders of the Western Balkan countries signed a statement supporting the digital agenda for their region.

Vanessa Coleman