POZNAŃ – All six countries of the Western Balkans have a European perspective, but to achieve this perspective, we need stronger strategic commitment and more tangible reform results across the region, stated on Thursday Christian Danielsson, Director-General for European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations (DG NEAR), at the Western Balkans Summit in Poznań.
Danielsson explained that the EU door will remain open but it is up to the countries of the region to carry out the necessary reforms. He added that there is a room for improvement but it is important to note that the accession process is based on individual merits.
He recalled that 2018 was the year which reconfirmed the European perspective of the Western Balkans, with the Commission’s Western Balkans Strategy, followed by the Western Balkans Summit in Sofia.
“The Commissioner Johannes Hahn and I often say that geography is destiny and the Western Balkans is part of Europe – we share the same history, the same geography, the same cultural heritage, and the same opportunities and challenges, today and in the future,” said Danielsson.
He underlined that the place of the Western Balkans is inside the EU.
Speaking of the Summit in Poznań, Danielsson said that it is just another important milestone proving that the Berlin Process is alive and it is contributing substantially to regional cooperation.
When it comes to the Connectivity Agenda, Danielson highlighted that the Western Balkans and the EU are closely interconnected.
“More than 70% of the region’s trade is within the EU and shared volumes continue to grow. The transport, energy and digital infrastructure which we are building together as part of the Connectivity Agenda are integrating the infrastructure of the Western Balkans into the EU,” pointed out Danielsson.
He said that since the 1990’s the EU support has leveraged overall investments of almost 22 billion euros in the region.
Director-General of DG NEAR underlined that in 2015 in the Western Balkans Summit in Vienna, the EU defined a core transport and energy trans European networks and set aside extra 1 billion euro in grants, to support Connectivity Agenda across the region between 2015 and 2020.
“We are very pleased and proud to inform you that with the endorsement of the fifth connectivity package of this Summit in Poznań we have already fulfilled 90% of the 1 billion euro pledge. Those grants are leveraging total investments of about 3.2 billion euro and will contribute to the creation of more than 45 thousand jobs,” said Danielsson.
He added that this year’s package consists of another eight major connectivity projects, in energy and transport sectors which will leverage investments of 728 million euros and that by the end of this year work will have started on over 20 projects.
“I want the Western Balkans to participate in the economies of the future. Those economies are digital and they are green,” said Danielsson, adding that he expects that the leaders will adopt green agenda which will fight the climate changes and benefit the health and well being of citizens.
To stop the brain-drain in the region, he believes that the Western Balkan countries need to create more economic opportunities for its citizens, and one way to do that is to speed up the implementation of the Regional Economic Area.
“Consolidating a market of 18 million people will boost economic growth, create opportunities for citizens and business,” said Danielsson.
The Western Balkans to follow the suit of North Macedonia
Good neighbourly relations, regional cooperation, reconciliation are a prerequisite for lasting peace and a condition for joining the EU, stated Danielsson.
He said that North Macedonia and Greece have shown that even long-standing disputes can be resolved with political determination and brave visionary leadership.
“We are confident that we can still make progress in many areas before the end of this Commission’s mandate. We stand by the recommendation to open accession negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia and we count on the Council to follow the positive assessment,” said Danielsson.
He underscored that both countries have delivered on reforms, especially in the areas mentioned by the Council’s conclusions in 2018, adding that North Macedonia has received overall appreciations due to the Prespa Agreement.
“North Macedonia has become the best practice example in many areas which the whole region should follow, by stepping up the pace of reforms not only in the economic area but also regarding the rule of law, fundamental rights, fighting corruption and good governance,” explained Danielsson.
He added that this is the point of the accession process and that reforms are not necessary to please Brussels but to give tangible benefits to the people, such as peace, prosperity and perspective for the youth.