An international panel made of experts on the Balkans and senior European political figures says the European Union should convene a special summit next year to map out a path for the countries of the western Balkans to join the 25-member nation European Union.  The recommendations of the International Commission on the Balkans were released simultaneously Tuesday in Brussels and Washington.

The commission, chaired by former Italian prime minister Giuliano Amato, says EU membership is the only way to foster political and economic stability in Albania and the countries of the former Yugoslavia. So far, Slovenia is the only former Yugoslav republic to have joined the European Union. Bulgaria and Romania are set to join at the end of next year.

Commission member Kemal Dervis of Turkey says the EU needs to provide a membership road map for each country of the Balkans region so each knows what it needs to do to gain entry.

"Actual accession will of course, and should, depend on each individual group and each individual country,? said Mr. Dervis. ?So a regional approach does not mean that everybody should or will join at the same time."

On Tuesday, the EU's executive body, the European Commission, recommended that the organization begin preliminary membership talks with Serbia and Montenegro. The announcement follows Belgrade's recent handover of 13 war crimes suspects to the Hague tribunal. Macedonia and Croatia already have pre-accession agreements but planned membership talks with Croatia were recently halted because Zagreb has failed to hand over a prominent war crimes suspect.

Greek commission member Alexander Rondos says the problems of secessionist Kosovo should be resolved through regional discussions and not imposed by the European Union.

"I do think what is absolutely vital [concerning Kosovo] is that the countries in the neighborhood become involved in some of the discussions so that they buy into the process and have a stake in this. So, it shouldn't be a decision that is foisted [upon the region]," he said.

The chairman of the International Commission, Giuliano Amato, says the status quo in the western Balkans does not lead anywhere.  By 2006, he says, each of the countries of the region must be given its own road map for entering the EU.