BRATISLAVA – European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced a new growth plan for the Western Balkan countries at the GLOBSEC Bratislava Forum, with an aim to bring Western Balkans closer to the EU.
“We want to build on the progress achieved in the recent months, but we also want to bring some of the benefits of the EU membership to the people of Western Balkans already today,” said von der Leyen.
President of the European Commission explained that the plan is built on 4 important pillars – bringing the Western Balkans closer to the EU single market, deepening regional economic integration, accelerating fundamental reforms, and increasing pre-accession funds in the WB.
“To certain extent this is a new approach to the European Union and we do not only ask our partners to take new steps towards us, but we also take a big step towards them. Our shared goal is to speed up the journey towards the European Union”, noted von der Leyen.
She also explained that the countries that are on the promising path to the EU should benefit from the single market which is the main driver of the economic success of Member States. Von der Layen highlighted the possibility to join a digital single market in the area such as e-commerce, cyber security, and the possibility to facilitate trade in goods and payments. She explained that closer association with the EU single market goes hand in hand with the common regional market.
“The common regional market is crucial unlock the enormous economic potential in the region, and it is crucial to make the Western Balkans more attractive for European investors”, said von der Leyen.
This regional market can also help accelerate the EU accession process and offer some of the advantages in advance, but, as she mentioned, it is important that certain requirements of membership have to be met in advance.
“Some of the accession reforms that are part of the accession process are key for investors’ confidence. Just think about building an independent and efficient judiciary, ensuring sound public procurement, stepping up the fight against corruption, and think about the whole energy market”, said von der Leyen.
She added that the WB region has to increase energy efficiency, step up its energy diversification, and deployment of renewable energy in order to diversify away from Russian fossil fuels and get closer to the EU and speed up the accession process.
“We stand ready to support Western Balkans with increased pre-accession funding”, said von der Leyen mentioning that there is a dire need for investments in Western Balkans that will make people’s lives better and help its integration into the Union.