Supporting green and digital transition in Western Balkans

The Commission tabled Economic and Investment Plan for the region

Photo: EU Olivér Várhelyi.

An Economic and Investment Plan that will promote the long-term recovery of the region and foster regional economic integration, was tabled by the Commission on Tuesday. The aim is supporting a green and digital transition in the region, boosting reforms and bringing the six countries closer to the EU Single Market.

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, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/Vice-President of the European Commission, Josep Borrell, said. 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, he added.

EU Commissioner for Neighbourhood and Enlargement, Olivér Várhelyi, explained that the Commission will mobilise up to €9bn of funding for investment flagships in the areas of transport, energy, green and digital transition, to create sustainable growth and jobs, boosting the economic development and recovery of the region.

He also said that 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, he underscored noting that “implementation of course will need to go hand in hand with reforms.”

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 this year.

It foresees actions around five pillars. These are climate action, including decarbonisation, energy and mobility, circular economy, addressing in particular waste, recycling, sustainable production and efficient use of resources, and biodiversity, aiming to protect and restore the natural wealth of the region. In the same package are actions on fighting air, water and soil pollution and sustainable food systems and rural areas. A key enabler for these five pillars in line with the concept of the dual green and digital transition, will be digitalisation.

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.

Besides the EU's significant grant funding to the region, 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 forthcoming Sofia Summit.

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