Important Steps Taken to Advance Regional Cooperation to Boost Socio-economic Recovery and Convergence with the EU
The European Commission welcomes the commitment expressed today at the summit in Sofia by the Western Balkan leaders to further strengthen regional cooperation as a way to advance on their European path. The region’s positive response to the Economic and Investment Plan, its commitment to enhanced connectivity and endorsement of key initiatives such as the establishment of a Common Regional Market, the launch of a Green Agenda for the Western Balkans and further support to Roma integration will help accelerate the post-pandemic recovery by spurring on sustainable economic growth.
President of the Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, said ahead of the summit: “The Western Balkans is an absolute priority for my Commission since my very first day. The region’s future is in the European Union. 2020 has been a challenging year but we firmly stood together. Our Economic and Investment Plan recently adopted will speed up the economic development of the Western Balkans and it will boost its convergence with the European Union, support the implementation of fundamental reforms and bring the region closer to the EU single market. This plan can help you to change the daily lives of your people and the business of the region for to 5 years from now.”
High Representative/Vice-President Josep Borrell added: “I am glad to see Western Balkan leaders embracing the vital role of regional cooperation. It’s as important for reconciliation as it is for economic recovery. We must not forget that the recovery needs to be sustainable and socially just. That’s why the Economic and Investment Plan and the Green Agenda for the Western Balkans is focused on modern, green, and people-focused investment. This also means that the investments need to be underpinned by the fundamental reforms required on the European path.”
Attending the summit, Olivér Várhelyi, Commissioner for Neighbourhood and Enlargement, stressed: “The engagement with our Western Balkan partners remains a key priority for the EU and the European perspective remains a driver for change in the region. The commitment of the region’s leaders to develop a common regional market and implement a green and digital transition is crucial for bringing the region closer to the EU. Together with investments in connectivity and human capital, these are key elements of the Economic and Investment Plan for the Western Balkans which the European Commission put forward in October. This will bring tangible benefits to the people in the Western Balkans and strengthen our ties with the region.”
The initiatives endorsed in Sofia build on commitments previously taken by the region at the EU-Western Balkans Summit in Zagreb in May 2020. They will be supported by the Economic and Investment Plan for the Western Balkans adopted by the European Commission on 6 October 2020. This plan aims to mobilise up to €9 billion of EU grants to speed up the region’s socio-economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and to accelerate its economic convergence with the EU. In addition, it foresees a new Western Balkans Guarantee Facility, which can raise investments of up to € 20 billion.
Today in Sofia, at the meeting jointly hosted by Bulgaria and North Macedonia and attended by several EU Member States and EU institutions in the context of the Berlin process, the Western Balkan leaders welcomed the Plan and committed to implementing the reforms necessary to achieve its ambitious objectives.
The leaders at the summit also welcomed the new 2020 connectivity package with six projects in the areas of sustainable transport and clean energy presented by the Commission under the Western Balkans Investment Framework. This package constitutes the first step towards the implementation of the flagship projects of the Economic and Investment Plan, while at the same time completes the delivery of the EU’s 2015 pledge to deliver €1 billion in support of connectivity in the region.