PODGORICA – Following recent elections in Montenegro, the European Commission looks forward to the constitution of a new parliament and the formation of a new government – a first experience in the country after 30 years of having a new type of government, said EU Commissioner for Neighborhood and Enlargement Olivér Várhelyi. Speaking at the hearing on the EU Neighbourhood and Enlargement policies at the Committee on Foreign and EU Affairs of the Italian Chamber of Deputies Rome, Várhelyi highlighted that Montenegro was a frontrunner in accession talks, but that considerable work is still necessary, reports RTCG.
“With all the chapters open, the months ahead must now be used to deepen and speed up political and economic reforms, particularly in the rule of law area, where the next milestone ahead is to meet the Interim Benchmarks for the Rule of Law Chapters 23 and 24”, Várhelyi pointed out.
The European Commissioner said that the European Commission’s policy towards the countries of the region is based on three pillars: a new enlargement methodology, the opening of accession negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania, and an economic and investment plan which will be presented next month.
Reforms to follow economic growth
Várhelyi assessed that there is an enormous gap in terms of economic development between the Western Balkans and the EU.
“The faster we close that gap, the faster we can start creating resilient, strong, and sustainable market economies, the faster they will be able to join us”, said Várhelyi, adding that these substantially transformative reforms that the Western Balkan countries need to carry out, can best be supported by solid and accelerated economic growth and developing functioning market economies.
“We have scarce resources under the next long-term EU budget – this is the bit of the Commission’s proposal that suffered the most cuts during the negotiations – but we will deliver. To do that, we have to be skilful, determined and focused in our actions,” stressed Várhelyi.
The new Economic and Investment Plan, the European Commissione believes, should concentrate on flagship areas and projects that will directly create long – term growth and much needed jobs, together with an attractive investment climate. He cites connectivity in transport and energy, the Green transition, in particular decarbonisation of energy production, and Digital transformation, featuring broadband internet access, as the most important.
Várhelyi points out the the plan will also seek to better integrate economically the Western Balkans – amongst themselves and with the EU Single Market.
He added that the region is currently suffering from economic fragmentation.
“As an example, trucks spend 28 million hours waiting at borders every year – a burden that costs 1% of its GDP, and we all lose out. Building a common market of 18 million people, functioning on the basis of the EU rules, could be a game changer for the Western Balkans and would benefit both the region and the EU”, Várhelyi concluded.