TIRANA – President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen presented new details about the European Union Growth Plan for the Western Balkans during today’s Berlin Process summit, which took place in Tirana. The plan will include €2 billion in grants and €4 billion in loans, but the funds will be relieved upon the delivery of reforms.
Von der Leyen spoke about the new Growth Plan, which she first announced in May, during a press conference with the Prime Minister of Albania Edi Rama, and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz. She stated that the Growth Plan has the potential, if implemented, to double the size of the economies of the Western Balkans by the end of the decade.
“It has four pillars, the first being the inclusion of the Western Balkans into the European Single Market in seven key areas, for example, e-commerce, cashless payments, road transport, electricity, and roaming. The second pillar is that the Western Balkans themselves have to complete their Common Regional Market, which would increase the GDP of the region by 10%”, the President of the Commission said.
The third pillar, she added, is reforms and meeting the necessary standards of the EU, there needs to be a level playing field between the companies from the Union and the region. The fourth pillar concerns increased EU funding.
“If reform efforts are done, they will be matched by the increased EU funding for investment. We have proposed a €6 billion investment package, composed of €2 billion in grants and €4 billion in loans. The same logic applies in our Next Generation EU package for the Member States – investment and reforms; the funding will be relieved upon delivery of reforms”, von der Leyen said.
Asked about the accession of the region to the EU by 2030, von der Leyen emphasized that the enlargement is a process based on merit, and there should not be a rigid date.
“If someone wants to enter the EU by that date without reforms, that will never be acceptable to the member states, nor is it acceptable for someone to wait for accession to happen on a specific date because that would mean no enlargement in the next European Commission’s term, which is unacceptable,” she said.
In his remarks, German Chancellor Scholz emphasized the fact that this was the first time that a Berlin Process Summit had taken place in a Western Balkan country. He also pointed out that today an agreement of mutual recognition of professional qualifications was signed between the countries of the Western Balkans, following the three other mobilization agreements signed last year.
In addition to this, Scholz mentioned several other topics of discussion during the summit.
“Climate change has a significant effect on the Western Balkans as well. With a regional partnership between Germany and the Western Balkans, we will financially support renewable energy with €1.5 billion by 2030”, Scholz said.
He also announced additional financing of the Regional Youth Cooperation Office, as well as €73 million for a new project of integrating Albania in renewable energy.
German Chancellor described the Berlin Process as a success story and announced the holding of the next summit of the initiative in Germany in the context of the 10th year anniversary of the process.
Asked about Kosovo-Serbia relations, Scholz said that there is a clear determination of the German Government, EU, and US to resolve the conflict between Serbia and Kosovo and pave the way for a bright future for both countries as EU members. He condemned the attack on the Kosovo police on 24 September and assessed that there was an “attack on institutions and people”.
“The EU and Germany have a clear stance on this. We expect the results of the investigation to be carried out by Kosovo authorities, and it would be good if the Serbian authorities cooperate with them. It would beneficial if that happens”, Scholz said.
Speaking about the future of the dialogue, Scholz added that several agreements between Kosovo and Serbia have already been reached and their implementation is necessary, including the Association/Community of Serb Municipalities in the north.