Tag Archives: Western Balkans

EU invests in Western Balkans

Brussels 06.10.2020 Today, the European Commission adopted a comprehensive Economic and Investment Plan for the Western Balkans, which aims to spur the long-term economic recovery of the region, support a green and digital transition, foster regional integration and convergence with the European Union.

“The citizens of the Western Balkans are part of Europe and we have a shared interest in helping these six partners move forward on their EU path. With the Economic and Investment Plan, we are backing our Enlargement Package assessment with action, providing deep and strong support for economic recovery and reform – for a modern, greener and more prosperous Western Balkans delivering better to their citizens on the road to the EU” EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy of the European Commission, Josep Borrell, said.

“Today we are presenting our Economic and Investment plan for the Western Balkans to boost the economic development and recovery of the region. We will mobilise up to €9 billion of funding for investment flagships in the areas of transport, energy, green and digital transition, to create sustainable growth and jobs. The Plan also offers a path for a successful regional economic integration to help accelerate convergence with the EU and close the development gap between our regions, ultimately speeding up the process of EU integration. This plan should help to transform the Western Balkans into one of the most attractive region for investments in the world. Implementation of course will need to go hand in hand with reforms” presenting the new Plan, EU Commissioner for Neighbourhood and Enlargement, Olivér Várhelyi, commented.

The Economic and Investment Plan sets out a substantial investment package mobilising up to €9 billion of funding for the region. It will support sustainable connectivity, human capital, competitiveness and inclusive growth, and the twin green and digital transition.

In parallel to the Economic Investment plan to support the region, the Commission has presented guidelines for implementing the Green Agenda in the Western Balkans, expected to be adopted at the Western Balkans Summit in Sofia in November 2020. It foresees actions around five pillars. These are (i) climate action, including decarbonisation, energy and mobility, (ii) circular economy, addressing in particular waste, recycling, sustainable production and efficient use of resources, (iii), biodiversity, aiming to protect and restore the natural wealth of the region, (iv), fighting air, water and soil pollution and (iv) sustainable food systems and rural areas. Digitalisation will be a key enabler for the above five pillars in line with the concept of the dual green and digital transition.

The Plan identifies ten investment flagships to support major road and railway connections in the region, renewable energy and the transition from coal, renovation of public and private buildings to increase the energy efficiency and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, waste and waste water management infrastructure, as well as the roll out of broadband infrastructure. Other flagships include increased investments in the private sector to boost competitiveness and innovation, in particular of small and medium sized companies and a Youth Guarantee.

In addition to the EU’s significant grant funding to the region, the EU can provide guarantees to help reduce the cost of financing for both public and private investments and to reduce the risk for investors. Support through the new Western Balkans Guarantee facility, under the EU External Action Guarantee and the European Fund for Sustainable Development Plus, is expected to mobilise potentially investments of up to €20 billion in the next decade.

The investment package will be a key driver for facilitating increased public and private investments in the region by European and international financial institutions.

Better connecting the economies of the Western Balkans within the region and with the EU requires a strong commitment from the Western Balkans to implement fundamental reforms, deepen regional economic integration and develop a common regional market on the basis of the EU acquis in order to make the region a more attractive investment area.

The Commission has been supporting the efforts of the Governments of the region to develop a new vision for the creation of a regional economic area expected to be endorsed at the Sofia Summit in November 2020. The EU will strive to bring the region closer to the EU Single market. Good governance is the foundation for sustainable economic growth. Boosting investment and economic growth will therefore only be possible if the Western Balkans firmly commit to and implement fundamental reforms in line with European values.

As reflected in the enhanced enlargement methodology, partners which progress in reform priorities should benefit from increased funding and investments.

EU provides €3bn assistance to partners

The Council today adopted a decision to provide up to 3 billion euros of macro-financial assistance to ten enlargement and neighbourhood partners to help them cope with the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Financial assistance will be provided in the form of loans on highly favourable terms and allocated as follows:

Albania: €180 million
Bosnia-Herzegovina: €250 million
Georgia: €150 million
Jordan: €200 million
Kosovo*: €100 million
Moldova: €100 million
Montenegro: €60 million
Republic of North Macedonia: €160 million
Tunisia: €600 million
Ukraine: €1200 million.

EU assistance will help these jurisdictions cover their immediate financing needs which have increased as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak. Together with the support from the International Monetary Fund, the funds will help enhance macroeconomic stability and create space to allow resources to be allocated towards protecting citizens and to mitigating the negative socio-economic consequences of the coronavirus pandemic.

EU committed to Western Balkans

Initially foreseen to happen in the capital of Croatia, the EU-Western Balkans Zagreb Summit has taken place on 6 May 2020 via video conference due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The EU is the most important partner of the Western Balkans region and the video conference has underlined the significance of the unique EU-Western Balkans relations. The summit has provided an opportunity to highlight mutual solidarity and cooperation in these time of pandemic crisis. Partners in the region have contributed to help EU member states while the European Union has mobilised over €3.3 billion to help Western Balkans deal with the coronavirus outbreak consequences.

“We, the leaders of the European Union (EU) and its Member States, in consultation with Western Balkans leaders, and in the presence of regional and international stakeholders, today reiterate our strong solidarity with our partners in the context of the coronavirus crisis. In these unprecedented times, we have concluded the following:

“Recalling the 2000 Zagreb, the 2003 Thessaloniki and the 2018 Sofia Summits, the EU once again reaffirms its unequivocal support for the European perspective of the Western Balkans. The Western Balkans partners reiterated their commitment to the European perspective as their firm strategic choice. The credibility of this commitment depends also on clear public communication and the implementation of the necessary reforms”

“Summed up in Zagreb declaration, confirming European perspective for the Western Balkans and solidarity in the face of COVID-19 pandemic. Strong and important signal for the region. The European Commission will deliver robust economic & investment plan” the Commissioner Oliver Varhelyi said.

The Renew Europe Group in the European Parliament welcomes the Zagreb declaration agreed today during EU – Western Balkans summit by the heads of state and government from EU Member States and the leaders of the six Western Balkans partners. The summit, which was supposed to be held in Zagreb, took place by video conference shortly after the EU mobilised a financial package of over EUR 3.3 billion for the Western Balkans in order to support the region in tackling COVID-19 and sustain the post-pandemic recovery.

President of the Renew Europe Group, Dacian Cioloş (PLUS, Romania), said:

The long-awaited summit is a clear confirmation that Western Balkan countries belong to the European family and that enlargement continues to be high on European Union’s agenda.

The meeting held today reconfirms the two-way commitment of the enlargement process: on one hand, the EU’s determination to further intensify its engagement at all levels to support the region’s political, economic and social transformation and on the other hand, the pledge of the Western Balkans to uphold European values and principles and to carry out the necessary reforms. The revised accession methodology will facilitate this two-way commitment and ensure concrete benefits faster for citizens of both sides.

The COVID-19 crisis brought to the strong need for solidarity and mutual support inside the European Union and with our neighbours and partners. Since the beginning of the crisis the EU ensured significant support for the Western Balkan countries and will continue to do so, proving to be the most helpful and reliable partner of the region.”

MEP Ilhan Kyuchyuk (Movement for Rights and Freedom, Bulgaria), Renew Europe Vice-Coordinator of the Foreign Affairs Committee and EP standing rapporteur on North Macedonia, added:

“I welcome the Western Balkans summit and its conclusions. The decision to provide over €3.3 billion of EU financial support for the Western Balkan countries to fight COVID-19 is crucial and will help the region to overcome the health crisis. Despite the difficult times, Europe has once again shown that it stands shoulder-to-shoulder with its Western Balkans partners and reaffirmed its unequivocal support for the European perspective of the region. After the European Council agreed in March to open accession negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania, we have to continue backing the Western Balkans with the reforms needed on their EU path because their future lies in European Union. Our political, economic and social engagement and the expression of solidarity are a driving force of integration and demonstrate that EU enlargement can be a success story.”

EU allocates €3.3bn to Western Balkans

Ahead of the 6 May meeting between the EU and the region, the European Union reinforces its support to the Western Balkans to address the coronavirus crisis.

As announced on April 29, the European Commission and the European Investment Bank will mobilise over €3.3 billion to benefit the citizens of the Western Balkans. This support will continue addressing the immediate health and resulting humanitarian needs of the COVID-19 pandemic and will help with the social and economic recovery of the region.

The EU and the Western Balkans are facing this crisis together. Given their European perspective, the EU has included the Western Balkans in several initiatives and instruments reserved for EU Member States. These include the joint procurement of medical equipment, exempting the region from the EU’s export authorisation scheme for personal protective equipment and the supply by the EU of testing material. The EU has also ensured the fast flow of essential goods across land borders through “green lanes”. The region is also associated to the work of relevant EU health bodies as well as to the research and innovation effort.

With today’s package, the EU sent another strong and clear signal that it will continue to support the Western Balkans partners.

This support also extends to the reforms needed to advance on the EU path, considering that the post-COVID-19 recovery will only work effectively if the countries keep delivering on their commitments related to the EU accession. In this context, Western Balkans partners are encouraged to strongly focus on the reforms related to rule of law, the functioning of democratic institutions and public administration.

Once the immediate COVID-19 crisis is over, an Economic and Investment Plan for the region will be put forward later this year to support long-term recovery, economic growth and reforms required to move forward on the EU path. (Image North Macedonia, archive)

Borrell on W.Balkans European perspective

At aprrival to the Euorpean Council for the EU-Western Balkans informal meeting the EU top diplomat Josep Borrell said he hoped that some of Western Balkans countries could become members of the EU before the end of his mandate.

Today is another step on the European perspective for the Balkan countries. We are going to talk about it also tomorrow at the Foreign Affairs Council.

“I am coming from Munich where I had the opportunity of meeting all the Heads of State or Government of the Balkan countries. I have been flying in the plane with the Foreign Minister of North Macedonia and I learnt that they have [taken] a new important step on the reforms, about the law of the public prosecutor, which shows their will of doing anything they have to do in order to have a European perspective. So we are going to work today and tomorrow for the next European Council to open the door to the European perspective of the Balkan countries.”

New EU enlargement “methodology”

On 5 February, Commissioner Olivér Várhelyi has presented proposals for a revised enlargement “methodology” to the foreign affairs MEPs. The new “methodology” surfaced after the Council’s reluctance to agree on opening accession talks with North Macedonia and Albania and is expected to “enhance credibility” and give ‘”new impetus” to the enlargement process.

The European Commission put forward a proposal to drive forward the EU accession process, by making it more credible, with a stronger political steer, more dynamic and predictableVárhelyi announced.

The European Union enlargement to the Western Balkans is a top priority for the Commission“, – Olivér Várhelyi continued. “We are working on three tracks: Firstly, today we propose concrete steps on how to enhance the accession process. While we are strengthening and improving the process, the goal remains accession and full EU membership. Secondly, and in parallel, the Commission stands firmly by its recommendations to open accession negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania and will soon provide an update on the progress made by these two countries. Thirdly, in preparation of the EU-Western Balkans Summit in Zagreb in May, the Commission will come forward with an economic and investment development plan for the region.”

“A more credible process: The accession process needs to build on trust, mutual confidence and clear commitments by the European Union and the Western Balkans. Credibility should be reinforced through an even stronger focus on fundamental reforms, starting with the rule of law, the functioning of democratic institutions and public administration as well as the economy of the candidate countries. When partner countries meet the objective criteria, the Member States shall agree to move forward to the next stage of the process, respecting the merits-based approach.

“A stronger political steer: The political nature of the accession process requires a stronger political steer and engagement at the highest levels. The Commission proposes to increase the opportunities for high level political and policy dialogue, through regular EU-Western Balkans summits and intensified ministerial contacts. Moreover, Member States should be involved more systematically in monitoring and reviewing the process. All bodies under Stabilisation and Association Agreement will focus much more on the key political issues and reforms, while Inter-Governmental Conferences will provide stronger political steering for the negotiations.

“A more dynamic process: To inject further dynamism into the negotiating process, the Commission proposes to group the negotiating chapters in six thematic clusters: fundamentals; internal market; competitiveness and inclusive growth; green agenda and sustainable connectivity; resources, agriculture and cohesion; external relations. Negotiations on each cluster will be open as a whole – after fulfilling the opening benchmarks – rather than on an individual chapter basis. Negotiations on the fundamentals will be open first and closed last and the progress on these will determine the overall pace of negotiations. The timeframe between opening a cluster and closing the individual chapters should be limited, preferably within a year fully dependant on the progress of the reforms.

“A more predictable process: The Commission will provide greater clarity on what the EU expects of enlargement countries at the different stages of the process. It will make clearer what the positive consequences progress on reforms can bring, and what will the negative consequences will be when there is no progress.

“To encourage demanding reforms, the Commission will better define the conditions set for candidates to progress and will provide clear and tangible incentives of direct interest to citizens. Incentives could include accelerated integration and “phasing-in” to individual EU policies, the EU market and EU programmes – while ensuring a level playing field – as well as increased funding and investments. The more candidates advance in their reforms, the more they will advance in the process. Equally, the Commission proposes more decisive measures proportionally sanctioning any serious or prolonged stagnation or backsliding in reform implementation and meeting the requirements of accession process. Negotiations could be put on hold in certain areas, or in the most serious cases, suspended overall, and already closed chapters could be re-opened; benefits of closer integration, like access to EU programmes, could be paused or withdrawn, and the scope and intensity of EU funding could be adjusted downward.

https://twitter.com/vonderleyen/status/1225009804323819522?s=21

“The Commission hopes the Member States will endorse the proposal, in parallel with the opening of accession negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania, ahead of the European Union-Western Balkans Summit in Zagreb on 6-7 May. For the summit the Commission will consider how to bring forward investment, socio- economic integration and the rule of law for the Western Balkans region.

https://twitter.com/reneweurope/status/1225059189187321863?s=21

NATO celebrates anniversary in April 2019 in Washington

NATO Foreign Ministers concluded two days of meetings in Brussels on Wednesday (5 December 2018), focused on issues including the INF Treaty, the Sea of Azov, the Western Balkans, Afghanistan, and the Alliance’s new training mission in Iraq.

The Foreign Ministers of the nations contributing to the Resolute Support Mission, met today in Brussels to reaffirm our steadfast commitment to ensuring long-term security and stability in Afghanistan.

“We express our utmost appreciation for the crucial contribution of the men and women serving in our Resolute Support Mission and in the Afghan National Defence and Security Forces. We pay tribute to those who have lost their lives or have been wounded in support of a better future for Afghanistan” the statement of the Foreign ministers said.

We reaffirm the decisions taken at our Summit in July 2018 on our continued support to Afghanistan, and we recall Afghanistan’s commitments, including to continue on the path to reform covering, inter alia, the promotion of human rights, good and inclusive governance, and combating corruption”- the Ministers confirmed.

At the conclusion of the meeting, Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg noted that Foreign Ministers will next meet in Washington in April 2019, marking 70 years since the Alliance’s founding. He added that Allied leaders will also meet later next year.

NATO accuses Russia in violation of Nuclear Forces Treaty

NATO Foreign Ministers are meeting December 4 to begin two days of talks on critical issues for the Alliance’s shared security. Ministers will discuss NATO’s cooperation with Georgia and Ukraine, transatlantic security, and the Alliance’s approach to the Middle East and North Africa. The Western Balkans and the security situation in Afghanistan will also be high on the agenda.

During the first day of the discussions the allies have concluded that Russia has developed and fielded a new missile system in violation of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, a key arms control agreement which has been crucial in upholding NATO’s security for over 30 years. At a meeting  NATO Foreign Ministers called on Russia to urgently return to full and verifiable compliance, saying: “it is now up to Russia to preserve the INF Treaty.” Allies expressed firm commitment to preserving effective international arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation.

EU foreign ministers to discuss broad agenda

The Foreign Affairs Council on July 16 will start with a discussion on current affairs, allowing ministers to review pressing issues on the international agenda.

This will include the Iran nuclear deal (JCPOA) following the JCPOA Joint Commission meeting on 6 July.

The High Representative and foreign ministers may also refer to the Western Balkan Summit taking place in London on 10 July.

Foreign ministers will exchange views on the Eastern Partnership. They will prepare for the Eastern Partnership ministerial meeting foreseen in October.

Ministers will discuss the implementation of the 20 deliverables for 2020. This framework aims to achieve stronger economy, governance, connectivity and society in the six Eastern partners: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, the Republic of Moldova and Ukraine.

The Council will discuss Libya and it will focus on the political process, in particular the upcoming elections. It will be the opportunity to reiterate the EU’s support to UN Secretary General’s Special Representative Ghassan Salamé.

Ministers may also touch upon the country’s economic situation.The discussion also takes place in the context of the follow-up to the European Council conclusions on migration.

Austrian Presidency challenges EU

Borders, migration, the MFF, and enlargement were key issues in a debate with Austria’s Chancellor Sebastian Kurz on the EU work programme for the rest of 2018.

During its six-month presidency in the Council, the Austrian government intends primarily to promote stronger protection of the EU’s external borders, in order to safeguard open internal borders in the long term, boost competitiveness, promote the development of “high-tech made in Europe” and pursue an active neighborhood policy, including integrating the Western Balkan states into the European Union, in the long term.

“We want to build bridges, in the interests of Europeans and of our European Union,” said Mr Kurz.

EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and the leaders of the major political groups urged Mr Kurz to pursue work on asylum reform, the euro area and the creation of a European monetary fund. Priority should also be given to discussing proposals for the EU’s new long-term financial framework in the Council, in order to reach an agreement with Parliament before the EU elections in May 2019, they added.

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