BERLIN (Reuters) - The European Union should make it a priority to admit Balkan states as members, since they are on the frontline of Europe's refugee crisis, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said.
Renzi made his call after EU officials said late last month the EU is concerned that people-smugglers could open a new sea route to Italy from Albania if land borders in the Balkans are sealed.
"The union has been expanded to the east. But it would be a tragic and a historic mistake to leave out the Balkan countries," he told the German newspaper Die Welt in an interview released on Wednesday.
"The admission of Albania, Montenegro and Serbia into the Union must have priority," Renzi added.
Montenegro is already actively negotiating EU accession. Serbia, Macedonia and Albania are official candidates. But the EU has signaled it is unlikely to accept any new members until the end of the decade.
Writing by Paul Carrel, editing by Larry King