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European Western Balkans
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Von der Leyen announces conditional recommendation to start talks with BiH, Várhelyi presents the Growth Plan

Presentation of the EU enlargement package; Photo: European Union

BRUSSELS – President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen and Commissioner for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Olivér Várhelyi presented today the 2023 Commission’s enlargement package. While von der Leyen focused on the recommendation to open accession talks with Ukraine and Moldova, but also Bosnia and Herzegovina, Várhelyi presented the Growth Plan for the Western Balkans.

In the press conference, the President of the Commission announced that today is a historic day because, ten years after the Maidan protests, the Commission now recommends that the Council of the EU opens accession negotiations with Ukraine and Moldova.

The Commission, she added, also recommends the opening of EU accession negotiations with Bosnia and Herzegovina, once the necessary degree of compliance with the membership criteria is achieved. It also recommends that the Council grants Georgia the status of a candidate country on the understanding that certain reform steps are taken.

In the part of her speech focusing on Bosnia and Herzegovina, von der Leyen said that the Commission recognizes a number of positive political and legal steps, such as the swift entry into office of a new Council of Ministers in January 2023, as well as progress in the fight against organized crime, money laundering, and terrorism.

“But we also note with concern the various unconstitutional laws adopted by the representatives of the Republika Srpska entity. And against this backdrop, the Commission recommends to the Council, the opening of accession negotiations, once the necessary degree of criteria is achieved, and here too, the Commission will report to the Council on progress by March 2024”, the President of the Commission said.

Following an overview of the situation in each of the four countries, von der Leyen stressed that the enlargement has a strong political, economic, and geopolitical logic.

“Enlargement is also an investment in our security. Because integrating new members in the European Union shields those new members from foreign interference… In times where we see the rules-based international order increasingly called into question, of course a larger and stronger European Union gives us a stronger voice in the world”, von der Leyen said.

Várhelyi: Growth Plan aims at closing the social and economic gap between the Western Balkans and the EU

In his speech, Commissioner Olivér Várhelyi highlighted the release of the Western Balkans Growth Plan, which he described as a new and bold approach to catalyse the progress of closing the economic and social gap between the Western Balkans and the EU and creating the possibility of integrating the region into the EU even before they join.

The plan is aimed at four things, Várhelyi said – integrating the Western Balkans into the four freedoms as fast as they can, mutual integration among the Western Balkan economies themselves, helping the Western Balkan countries to implement the reforms and increased financial contribution for the region.

“We are ready to provide more support to accelerate this common work and this is why we are proposing to the Council to increase our financial contribution in supporting the reform agenda and provide an additional six billion Euros of support”, he said.

According to Várhelyi, this should make their aid intensity levels comparable to EU’s cohesion and structural funds countries already by the end of this multi-annual financial framework.

“So all in all, we are confident that with this plan, we can help the region to raise at least another third of its GDP altogether from the common regional market, from our financial contributions. We think that we can really boost the region. A boost that they need and the boost that we need as well”, the Commissioner said.

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