Serbia must push on with reforms to join EU, says Germany's Scholz

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BERLIN (Reuters) - Serbia must press ahead with reforms, including on media freedom, to realise its ambition of joining the European Union, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said on Wednesday, adding he wanted all Western Balkans countries to become members.

"For Serbia it is important that it continues its path of reforms and that includes on media freedom and fighting organised crime," said Scholz at a joint news conference with Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic.

Earlier, at a news conference with Kosovo's Prime Minister Albin Kurti, Scholz made clear that he viewed the Western Balkans countries as belonging to Europe.

"In future, all its countries must belong to the European Union," he said, promising to do what he could to help the process.

In the second half of the year, Scholz will travel to the region, which includes Montenegro, Bosnia-Herzegovina, North Macedonia and Albania, as well as Serbia and Kosovo. He will also invite the countries to talks on regional cooperation.

Vucic reiterated his country's ambition to join the EU.

"It is Serbia's choice to be on the European path and Serbia is fully committed to that. Disregarding opinion polls which show that it (the EU path) is not the most popular, Serbia's leadership will support that path," said Vucic.

Since Russia's invasion of Ukraine, Serbia has had to balance its European aspirations and partnership with NATO with its centuries-old religious, ethnic and political alliance with Russia.

Belgrade has voted against Russia at the United Nations but stopped short of imposing sanctions against it.

(Reporting by Madeline Chambers and Sarah Marsh, Ivana Sekularac in Belgrade and Fatos Bytyci in Pristina; Editing by Kirsten Donovan)