Western Balkans beyond 2020

Ilhan Kyuchyuk: The big idea of the EU is concentrated in the word “transformation”

Ilhan Kyuchyuk.

In the runup to the Berlin Process 2020 Sofia Summit on 10 November, Bulgarian MEP from Renew Europe Group/ Movement for Rights and Freedoms Ilhan Kyuchyuk, ALDE Party Vice-President, organised a vibrant virtual conference named 'Western Balkans beyond 2020: Actions and decisions in times of pandemic'. 

In his opening address, Kyuchyuk, who is also EP's standing rapporteur on North Macedonia, underscored that despite the crisis posed by the pandemic, 2020 was a key year for the EU, as in a situation of global lockdown, the Commission initiated talks and backed the Western Balkans region by €3.3bn in financial assistance. This is clear sign that this region is not left behind and the EU places the integration of these six countries in the foreground.

According to him, the big idea of the EU is concentrated in the word “transformation”, planted on the digital and green economy.

The Bulgarian MEP highlighted that the countries of the Western Balkans should be a strategic priority of the EU's political agenda and defined some important events for the region. “The first is the Berlin Process, which will take place on 10 November, where Bulgaria and Northern Macedonia will meet and come up with concrete suggestions, and the second is the General Affairs Council meeting where key decisions are expected to pave the way for the first intergovernmental conference.”

During his intervention, Oliver Varhelyi, EU Commissioner for Neighbourhood and Enlargement, asserted that for this Commission the region has been a priority from the very beginning of its mandate. We are convinced that the future of the whole region lies in the European Union and it is not only their interest, it is also our interest, he said, recalling that earlier this year the Commission renewed the enlargement methodology to make the process more credible and more dynamic for both. On that basis, we were able to prepare decision to open accession negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia and managed to secure an agreement in the Council in March. Furthermore, the Commission strongly focused on speeding up the economic development in the region.

It is crucial that the reform of the EU goes hand in hand with the enlargement process, stated Belgian MEP from Renew Europe Group Hilde Vautmans, President of the European Liberal Forum. She stated that the Conference on the future of Europe is really the important moment to discuss about how we can make Europe work better when countries enter the EU. Vautmans mentioned the need to debate about the unanimity vote. When we become bigger it is more difficult to decide with unanimity, that is something “as clear as water” as they say in Belgium, she argued.

Mustafa Karadayi, MRF Chairman, pointed out that the EU's enlargement policy aims to unite European countries in a common political and economic project.

During the two liberal governments, in which the MRF played a key role as a coalition partner, Bulgaria has fulfilled its strategic goals - membership of NATO and of the EU, he asserted. Karadayi also pointed out that “Bulgaria's Euro-Atlantic path was opened after the peaceful transition from totalitarianism to democracy, thanks to the unique Bulgarian ethnic model, whose architect is Dr Ahmed Dogan”.

This event comes at a very timely moment, on the eve of the upcoming Sofia Summit and we do have high expectations that it could play an important role in the overall efforts for the transformation of the Western Balkans, emphasised Vesselin Valkanov, head of the Regional Cooperation Council (RCC) Liaison Office in Brussels.

Describing the state of play in the region, he stressed that the pandemic certainly aggravated the situation and added new challenges - FDI in 2020 dropped already by 40%, growth forecast is grim, tourism is badly hit, unemployment has increased and among the young people, it stands at over 30%.

He cited findings of the RCC Balkan Barometer that show growing mistrust in institutions and political parties across the region - between 70-80%. In 2018, 61% thought government was not fighting corruption sufficiently, in 2020 they are 71%.

The brain drain has surged as a main concern in the last couple of years, Valkanov made clear, mentioning as well that 71% of the young people in the region who took part in the survey plan to leave and work abroad.

In the conference also took part Foreign Affairs Minister of North Macedonia Bujar Osmani, Deputy Minister of Europe and Foreign Affairs of Albania Sokol Denja, and Zeljana Zovko and Isabel Santos, both MEPs from AFET Committee.

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