Prime ministers from Western Balkans countries on Saturday agreed on a road map to deepen their regional economic cooperation as part of the process for joining the European Union.
The agreement was reached at a meeting in the Albanian port city of Durres, where Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama hosted his counterparts from Serbia, Kosovo, Bosnia and Hercegovina, Macedonia and Montenegro.
The meeting was held under tight security at a government beach resort. Police and National Guard troops maintained a heavy presence while a military warship patrolled off the coast.
Rama said the prime ministers agreed on a 115-point plan that would create a “fundamental transformation of the movement of goods, service, capital, qualified employees to make the region more attractive to investment, flexible in commercial exchange and speed up its economic growth and wellbeing along the road to the EU.”
EU Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn and World Bank Vice President Cyril Muller also attended the meeting.
Participants discussed how to implement the 115 items, Hahn said. He noted that even though the commercial exchange of goods between EU member countries and the six Western Balkan nations has doubled in the last decade to a value of 46 billion Euros $54 billion), bilateral ties in the region have not changed.
“The creation of an economic area is something supporting (their) European aspiration, but that also helps the countries for a better perspective,” Hahn said. “Finally everything is done in the interest of the citizens, improving the living conditions of the citizens.”
The leaders gathered in Italy last month for an official EU summit that focused on boosting economic growth through stronger inter-regional relations. All are at different stages of EU integration. The EU’s official enlargement process is on hold until 2019.
Hahn also warned Albanians and citizens of other Balkan countries not to apply for asylum in EU member countries, saying such actions were “detrimental” to the places residents want to leave.
“It shows the country is not yet mature for the EU,” he said.
Rama agreed that “asylum was no option” for Albanians who were going to Western Europe “for a better living, a job.”
Hahn also praised Macedonia and Serbia for resolving recent diplomatic friction “so fast that there was no time to get involved; there was no need to get involved.”
Serbia withdrew its entire diplomatic staff from Macedonia last Sunday, accusing its neighbour of planning unspecified “very offensive acts” against Serb interests. Macedonia denied any impropriety, adding that it hadn’t spied on and didn’t plan to spy on Serbia.
The embassy staff resumed regular consular activities in Macedonia Friday after Serbia’s president and Macedonia’s prime minister agreed to work together to improve bilateral relations.