German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas (R) and his counterpart from Albania, Dimitir Bushati (L) shake hands after a joint press conference after a meeting at the foreign ministry in Berlin, Germany, July 30, 2018.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas (R) and his counterpart from Albania, Dimitir Bushati (L) shake hands after a joint press conference after a meeting at the foreign ministry in Berlin, Germany, July 30, 2018.

BERLIN - Germany's foreign minister says it's in the European Union's "strategic interest" to expand in the Western Balkans, otherwise China and Russia will gain influence there instead.

Heiko Maas said Monday that Macedonia and Albania have already begun putting in place reforms required for membership of the bloc.

Speaking after a meeting with his Albanian counterpart Ditmir Bushati, Maas said he's "firmly convinced that the people in the Western Balkans want to live the way we do in Europe, and not the way people in China or Russia want to live."

He said Germany is "very, very positive about expanding the EU in the Western Balkans because we're firmly convinced it's in the strategic interest of a free Europe."

The EU could open membership talks with Albania and Macedonia next year.