EU Reaffirms Support for European Perspective of Western Balkans, Maps out Specific Steps towards Closer Integration

Sofia, May 17 (BTA) - Тhe EU reaffirmed Thursday its unequivocal support for the European perspective of the Western Balkans and the Western Balkans partners recommitted to the European perspective as their firm strategic choice. A declaration to that effect was adopted Thursday at a EU-Western Balkans Summit held in Sofia and widely seen as the crowning event of the Bulgarian Presidency of the EU Council.

The declaration says that the EU is determined to strengthen and intensify its engagement at all levels to support the region's political, economic and social transformation, including through increased assistance based on tangible progress in the rule of law, as well as in socio-economic reforms by the Western Balkans partners.

The forum launched a Sofia Priority Agenda for the EU and the Western Balkans whereby the twom sides make tangible commitments. It prioritizes strengthening EU support to rule of law and good governance, including by enhanced support for judicial reform and efforts to fight corruption and organised crime, including capacity building for corruption prevention. The EU will enhance monitoring of reforms through more systematic, case-based peer-review missions. It will start by introducing trial monitoring in the field of serious corruption and organised crime.

The EU vows to roll out support for the Western Balkans through the European Endowment for Democracy in the area of independent and pluralistic media and civil society.

It will also reinforce engagement on security and migration, including by stepping up joint work on counter-terrorism and preventing radicalisation and violent extremism.

The EU will increase support to capacity-building in the area of cyber-security and fight against cyber-crime.

It declares determination to support socio-economic development and put a special focus on youth. It will expand the Western Balkans Investment Framework to further attract and coordinate bilateral donors' and International Financing Institutions' investment. It will enhance support to education, in particular launch a pilot project for mobility in vocational education and training, double Erasmus+ funding for the region and tackle the brain drain.

An intra-regional mobility scheme will be set in place.

To increase connectivity, a new package of connectivity projects will be launched (with significant EU grants as leverage) through the Western Balkans Investment Framework, including support to the Blue Highway and the Peace Highway (Nis-Pristina).

Also, the EU will expand the Energy Union to the Western Balkans, focusing on energy security and diversification of sources and suppliers, including a strategy at regional level to benefit from renewables, notably hydropower. The EU expects to see the Regional Electricity Market in the Western Balkans built, and ensure that it is integrated into the EU Internal Electricity Market, including though the Central and South-Eastern European Connectivity (CESEC) initiative.

It will support further the creation of a single regulatory space and effective energy market reform process under the Energy Community Treaty.

A commitment/Memorandum of Understanding on the Bulgaria/Serbia gas interconnector is expected to be signed. The Transport Community Treaty is to start being implemented. An agreement on the Transport Community Treaty Headquarters (Belgrade) is to be signed. Also, the EU will support a new rail strategy to bring the Western Balkans into the main EU network and market.

The EU will launch a Digital Agenda for the Western Balkans, including a roadmap to facilitate lowering the cost of roaming.

The Sofia agenda promises support for reconciliation and good neighbourly relations in the Western Balkans, including support to fight against impunity through support to the Mechanism for the International Criminal Tribunals and to the Kosovo Specialist Chambers.

The EU points out that the Priority Agenda will be implemented in a status-neutral manner and without prejudice to discussions on the next Multiannual Financial Framework.

European Parliament President Puts Forward Package of 10 Billion Euro for Investment in Western Balkans Infrastructure

European Parliament President Antonio Tajani put forward a package of 10 billion euro of European investments in infrastructure and digital networks in the Western Balkans. Tajani made public the package at a news conference after the Sofia Summit.

He said that he had spoken to Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and expressed support for the EC-proposed action plan setting 2025 as a possible target for accession of Serbia and Montengero. He stressed that the European rules must be respected and urged for hard work in the coming years.

The stability on the Balkans is stability for the EU as well, the EP President said.

Tajani also said that he strongly supports the actions of Digital Economy and Society Commissioner Mariya Gabriel in respect of roaming charges and digital policy in the region and vowed that the European Parliament is strongly committed.

Source: Sofia