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If we don't embrace the Balkans, others will, says EU's Von der Leyen

BERLIN (Reuters) - North Macedonia and Albania have made enormous efforts to secure European Union membership, future European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on Friday, implictly contesting France's decision to veto further talks on their accession.

Von der Leyen was speaking after talks in Berlin with Chancellor Angela Merkel, who said it was "a matter of "extremely important strategic European interest" that the two countries continue to have a prospect of membership.

"Albania and North Macedonia have made unbelievable efforts to get to this," Von der Leyen said. "So long as it's not possible I will do everything to develop joint projects that bind the countries of the Western Balkans closely to us. If we don't do that, others will."

French President Emmanuel Macron vetoed further expansion of the EU at a recent Brussels summit, saying that the accession process needed to be reformed. The decision effectively dashed the two countries' hopes of making rapid progress on accession.

(Reporting by Thomas Escritt; Editing by Paul Carrel)

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