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European Western Balkans
Society

Region needs visible benefits behind Growth Plan that will be recognized for business and citizens

Photo: Flickr/OSF

TIRANA – The EU Growth Plan for the Western Balkans is an opportunity for the EU to offer a feasible strategy that would allow facilitated access for the countries from the region to the Single Market, as discussed during the panel “Full Access to the EU Single Market as a Pathway to Prosperity” at the Civil Society Forum (CSF).

Participants discussed the political and legal decisions needed to improve capacities and present an economic rationale that gives credibility to the EU enlargement process.

Panelists agreed that swiftly adopted trade derogations and market integration initiatives following the Russian aggression in Ukraine reflect the EU’s capacity for a strategic response in an evolving geopolitical context. Nevertheless, providing full access to the Western Balkans to European markets ahead of membership is a challenging task.

According to the current recommendations of the working group, the EU should present a plan with a feasible timeline to allow the markets of the Western Balkan Six to immediately access the EU Single Market in all areas that would not impose high adjustment costs.

Another recommendation is that, by the end of the year, the EU should present a formal plan for boosting pre-accession assistance in this multiannual financial framework (MFF) with strict rule of law conditionality.

When it comes to the recommendations to the governments of the region, the working group concludes that they should manifest their unequivocal commitment to implement and monitor the implementation of the reforms linked to the Single Market acquis.

Both the EU and the Western Balkans, according to the working group, should significantly increase the transparency of the planning, management, implementation, monitoring, reporting, and evaluation of pre-accession funds.

Stefan Ristovski, a Researcher at the European Policy Institute, said that the Thematic Working Group created recommendations that came from several rounds of discussions among 50 experts from the Western Balkans, EU members, the private sector, and academia.

According to him, these recommendations are in line with the ongoing political discussion in Brussels. He added that CSOs can contribute to that discussion on how to implement a Growth Plan.

He said that the main proposal of CSOs is directed to the European Commission. The European Commission should present a plan with a feasible timeline to allow the markets of the Western Balkans Six to immediately access the EU Single Market in all areas that would not impose high adjustment costs and would be highly beneficial and visible for businesses and citizens.

As Ristovski said, the Western Balkan governments should manifest their unequivocal commitment to implement and monitor the implementation of the reforms linked to the Single Market acquis.

He underlined that EU and Western Balkans leaders should ensure meaningful participation of relevant stakeholders, including CSOs, by ensuring that the policy dialogue on EU integration to the Single Market is open and transparent to non-state actors and significantly increase the transparency of the planning, management, implementation, monitoring, reporting, and evaluation of pre-accession funds.

Jorida Tobaku, Chairwoman of the European Affairs Committee and Chairwoman of the National Council of European Integration, spoke about the important role of national parliaments in the legislative and implementation process of the EU acquis.

She assessed that very often it is not clear how EU norms and standards adopted in WB legislation really improve the situation on the ground.

Speaking about the EU Single Market, Tobaku noted that Western Balkan countries have different economic indicators when it comes to GDP per capita, inflation rating, investments, and average salary, adding that countries in the region start from different points.

“We are starting from different positions, so we all need different momentum for reforms,” said Tobaku, adding that the rule of law is a prerequisite for economic reforms.

Jeton Zulfai, Political Advisor at the Office of the Prime Minister of Kosovo, underlined that Kosovo fully supports the Berlin Process and EU values. He underlined the importance of the Common Regional Market as the center of the Berlin Process.

According to him, the Single Market of the European Union is the area where EU countries are most integrated and represents one of the most complex policies within the EU. He emphasized that it is therefore important to have clear criteria for the Western Balkan countries, especially in the area of the rule of law.

Pranvera Kastrati, Senior Connectivity Expert at the Regional Cooperation Council (RCC), emphasized the significant importance of the political commitment of leaders in the Western Balkans to achieve ambitious goals, which include bold political reforms. She highlighted the importance of involving local institutions in the entire process.

Zdravko Ilić, Senior Expert on Trade in Services in CEFTA, assessed that the region needs visible benefits behind the Growth Plan that will be recognized for business, but also for the citizens. “We need strong political commitments to move forward and visible and tangible results that we feel on the ground,” Ilić added. He assessed that the Western Balkans need support to fight competition in a Single market.

Silvana Mojsovska, Professor at the Institute of Economics, said that the main question is how to speed up the EU integration process, adding that there is a need for guidelines on what should be done when it comes to accessing the EU Single Market.

“We usually speak about EU requests, but what about obligations of the EU,” she said, adding that in the case of North Macedonia, there is no data about fulfilling the obligations of the Agreement of Stabilization and Association.

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