The 2016 Paris Summit provided an important road map to further strengthen regional cooperation, increase coherence and deepen integration driven by a clear EU accession perspective.
We remain fully committed to our EU accession perspective, which is where our common free and prosperous future lies. We welcome that the European Council reaffirmed its unequivocal support for the European perspective of the Western Balkans and stressed that the EU remains committed to the region and engaged at all levels, to support stability and to deepen political and economic ties with and within the region. This firm and credible perspective thus continues to drive our transformation and modernisation through political and economic reforms. The principle of “fundamentals first” continues to be at the core of our efforts in relation to the rule of law including security, fundamental rights, democratic institutions and public administration reform. We are focussed as well on economic development and competitiveness, to stimulate entrepreneurship in the region, and to accelerate inward investment, to increase growth and the prospects of job creation. We have continued to make progress on our respective EU integration paths and will spare no effort in continuing this.
As we individually progress towards our European perspective, we recognise the necessity to bundle our strengths as a region. We are working together to create new opportunities for the region, building on its potential to promote its success. We stand by our solemn commitment to further support each other on our respective European paths rather than obstruct it. Therefore, we are concerned about growing nationalist polarisation and we pledge to resolve our political differences within the framework of our democratic institutions, and by strengthening mutual political dialogue.
Sincere devotion to the process of reconciliation is essential for the stability of our region. At this moment in particular, we reaffirm our strong commitment to resolve pending bilateral issues as soon as possible and will step up our efforts in accordance with the spirit of the 2015 Vienna Summit declaration and the Vienna conference in April 2016 to improve on the limited track record in this respect.
The ‘Berlin process’ and the Western Balkan Six initiative have already driven increased and deepened regional cooperation. Regular ministerial meetings have provided focus and impetus to our reform efforts, in particular in relation to the Connectivity Agenda.
The Connectivity Agenda remains at the heart of our work providing real benefits to our citizens and the infrastructure for greater cooperation in other areas. We have taken stock of the implementation of the 13 transport and energy connectivity investment projects that were agreed at the 2015 and 2016 Western Balkans summits with total costs of € 825 million including EU grant funding of € 303 million. Two of these have already broken ground in 2016 and more will do so by the time of the Trieste Summit. It is important that regional visibility events are organised in order to demonstrate to our citizens that the Connectivity Agenda is tangible and delivering concrete results. Looking towards the Trieste Summit, the process of screening new projects has been launched within the ‘Western Balkan Investment Framework’. We appreciate that funding choices are subject to a rigorous assessment of maturity and progress that we have made on implementation of the ‘connectivity reform measures’ that will open markets, create transparent regulatory frameworks, improve safety and reduce costs for businesses and citizens, as well as attract further investments in transport and energy.
The reinforced monitoring through regular Western Balkans Six ministerial meetings, based on the monitoring reports provided by the South East Europe Transport Observatory and the Energy Community Secretariat, has greatly facilitated and guided our policy reform efforts. We will continue our determined efforts encouraged by the new momentum that has been created. In transport we acknowledge the need to make further progress to improve border crossing procedures and infrastructure facilities. We are committed towards finalising the Transport Community Treaty. We believe that the best location for the TCT Secretariat is in the Western Balkans. Important progress has been made in energy where our objective is to link up with the EU’s Energy Union, on the basis of the ‘Roadmap for a Regional Electricity Market’. Energy efficiency and development of renewable energy will remain high on our reform policy agenda.
Further Western Balkans Economic Cooperation: Discussing a common market
In order to boost our growth potential, job creation and economic convergence with the EU, we need to pursue rule-based regional economic integration. To ensure success, we also need to facilitate innovation, stimulate business actively, and encourage investment, also at the level of small and medium size enterprises (SMEs).
We propose that our representatives together with the Regional Cooperation Council and supported by the European Commission, start working on a proposal for a joint approach to furthering economic cooperation in the Western Balkans through different initiatives in order to present them at the Trieste Summit, which could include for example on circulation of goods, services and capital, free flow of skilled workforce, a common digital approach and a dynamic investment space.
Small and medium size enterprises are the backbone of our economies and we look forward to the initiatives at the Trieste Summit to promote their development and better access to financing, including via the ‘Western Balkans Enterprise Development and Innovation Facility’.
A Positive Agenda for Youth
We believe that the youth of our region are essential actors as we work towards regional cooperation, friendship and reconciliation. The inauguration of the Regional Youth Cooperation Office (RYCO) in Tirana on 8 December 2016 is a demonstration of our commitment to these goals and to the young people who will help us achieve them. We look forward to RYCO becoming fully operational. We have taken good note of the progress and usefulness of the EU’s Young Civil Servants training and exchange scheme and urge that its continuation could be announced at the Trieste Summit.
The migration challenge remains present on the Western Balkans route in particular for the two most affected WB6 participants. Although the scale of the challenge has been much reduced following the route’s closure in March last year, there is a continuous flow of people still taking the route. We therefore welcome the EU’s continued commitment to support the WB6 participants along the Western Balkans route as expressed in the European Council Malta Declaration in February. Continued attention is required in relation to a possible risk of fragmentation of the migration patterns. We welcome the close cooperation with the Commission, the European Border and Coast Guard and EU Member States in effective monitoring, strengthened border and migration management including the respect of fundamental human rights, fighting against trafficking in human beings, migrants’ smuggling and improving the accommodation response.
Fight against terrorism and radicalisation
Terrorism and radicalisation continues to pose a threat in and to our region. We welcome the integrated security governance concept for the Western Balkans as adopted by the EU Justice and Home Affairs Council in December 2016. Returning foreign fighters and risk of radicalised ‘parallel’ communities pose a potential security threat that we are addressing through strengthened law enforcement, anti-terrorism strategies and action plans that increasingly focus on prevention and anti-radicalisation. We recognise that more needs to be done in this area and will engage in close cooperation with the EU, including the extension of its Anti-Radicalisation Network to our region and deepening our cooperation with Europol on counter-terrorism.
We are strongly committed to increase efforts to prevent and counter corruption in all its forms. We will continue our work to establish credible policy frameworks for preventing and tackling corruption, creating specific institutions and making substantial efforts to foster specialization in this field. We will reinforce our cooperation and look forward to the impetus that the Trieste Summit will provide in this respect.
Looking ahead, we underline the need to continue the engagement of all the actors within the ‘Berlin process’. We count on the support of the European Union to accompany our efforts to continue progressing firmly towards becoming full members of the European Union.