PARIS/BERLIN/SKOPJE- On 30 April 2019, the Office of President of France Emmanuel Macron published the “French Strategy for the Western Balkans” one day after the Berlin Summit organized by France and Germany.
According to the released document, Macron is hoping that France will adopt this Strategy so that it can achieve greater commitment in stabilizing the six countries of the region, which are not members of the European Union, in terms of their economic and social development and the strengthening of the rule of law.
It is noted that the proposed Strategy complements the activities undertaken within the framework of the Berlin Process, in which France has been participating since its establishment and will be partially implemented in the French-German framework. Furthermore, French’s Strategy aims to support and complement EU path of the Western Balkans countries.
The strategy lists three measures, with the first one being French intensification of the relations with the region. It is announced that President Macron will visit Serbia in July and French Minister of Europe and Foreign Affairs will visit Albania and Kosovo this year.
The second measure concerns strengthening of bilateral cooperation with the countries of the region in four areas: economy, security, justice and defense.
In the economic area, The French Development Agency (AFD) would support regional integration of the Western Balkans. AFD would support the economical and ecological transition, as well as in the field of gender equality, reconciliation, and youth through Regional Youth Cooperation Office (RYCO).
It is noted that the annual assistance provided by the AFD would initially amount to between 100 and 150 million EUR and would serve as support for improving the financing of other donors, in particular, the German Institute for Credit Rehabilitation (KFV).
When it comes to security, measures would be taken to combat illicit small arms and light weapons: the further implementation of the French-German guidelines for the mobilization of countries in the region through concrete measures, in particular with regard to security, the fight against trafficking in human beings and the creation of an illegal stockpile of weapons, in the fight against arms trafficking.
The Strategy is envisioning strengthening bilateral co-operation including the establishment of permanent crime intelligence units (UPRC).
The fight against terrorism and radicalism is also foreseen, with the support of establishing a platform for reporting illegal content on the Internet, as well as strengthening the operational cooperation mechanism for internal security issues.
In the justice area, the Strategy points out that France would continue with technical cooperation in the fight against drug trafficking, illegal arms and human trafficking, as well as the fight against organized crime. It envisions the establishment of the new cooperation in the field of financial and economic crime, trafficking in cultural property and protected species, which can also be sources of financing for terrorism, as well as the establishment of joint investigation teams with all countries in the region.
The final area is defense and it sets out an intensification of exchanges with the countries of the region in terms of political-strategic dialogues and visits by military authorities and in Operation EUFOR-Althea on 27 March. Furthermore, the Strategy predicts increased offer for the training of Western Balkan’s military officers in the French training school and nationals of these states at the Institute for Higher National Defence Studies (IHEDN).
The Strategy also recognizes the progress which Western Balkan countries made in the past several years, but it also stresses that there are still unresolved issues that the region faces.
Among the challenges are unresolved disputes, various economic and social issues, difficulties in permanently establishing the rule of law, security issues and external influences that divert the region from its European vocation.
On the other hand, the Prespa Agreement which ended Macedonian name issue is listed as a good example of regional dialogue.