(Vatican Radio) European Union leaders are meeting in Italy with their Western Balkan counterparts amid concerns about Russia's growing influence in the region and Wednesday's failure to settle a long running border dispute between Croatia and Slovenia. The EU's European Commission is expected to announce plans to boost economic growth in especially the countries of former Yugoslavia.
Listen to the report by Stefan Bos:
Italy's Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni welcomed German Chancellor Angela Merkel aboard a spectacular ship as he began hosting Wednesday's summit in the northern port city of Trieste, seen as a symbolic bridge city between the European Union and the Balkans amid new tensions.
The EU has made clear it wants to press ahead with economic integration at a time when Russia is increasing its political and military influence in the volatile region.
Brussels also faces Brexit, a reference to Britain's plans to exit the 28 nation block, as well as migration and security fears.
This gathering is the fourth summit since German Chancellor Angela Merkel launched the series of annual meetings with EU aspirants Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, and Serbia.
The European Commission, the EU's executive, was is expected to announce new funding to boost economic growth in the Balkans. Several Balkan leaders were also due to sign a treaty on integrating their transport networks and adopt a plan to create a regional economic area.
Undermining these efforts are indications that the wounds of the Balkan wars of the 1990's have not yet healed completely.
On Wednesday, EU members Slovenia and Croatia failed to reach an agreement on implementing an international arbitration ruling in their long-standing border dispute that has caused tensions between the European Union neighbors.
The Slovenian and Croatian prime ministers, Miro Cerar and Andrej Plenkovic, met for the first time since The Netherlands-based panel in June granted Slovenia unhindered access to the Adriatic Sea and ruled on several other disputed border issues stemming from the breakup of Yugoslavia in the 1990s.
Croatian Prime Minister Plenkovic warned that Croatia would not implement the arbitration court's decision and insisted that territorial issues should be resolved between the two states.
Claiming violations of the tribunal rules by Slovenia, Croatia walked out of the process in 2015 and does not recognize its findings.
Slovenia considers the ruling final and obligatory.
However, with the international community looking over their shoulders, both prime ministers agreed to continue their dialogue.