Western Balkans get unequivocal support for their EU perspective
The reforms should go on, particularly in the area of the rule of law and the fight against corruptionEuropost , Brussels
EU leaders voiced again their strong solidarity with the partners from the Western Balkans in the context of the coronavirus crisis, reads one of the points, altogether 20, of the Zagreb Declaration. It was issued during the EU-Western Balkans summit, held on Wednesday afternoon. The Croatian capital Zagreb was supposed to host the event, but because of the corona outbreak, it took place through a video conference.
All EU leaders agreed on the text, with which the six partners in the region - Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Kosovo, have aligned. They expressed their determination to further intensify engagement at all levels to support the region’s political, economic and social transformation. But the governments in the region will need to continue to deliver on reforms, particularly in the area of the rule of law and the fight against corruption.
The EU27 and the leadership of the Union, also reaffirmed their “unequivocal support for the European perspective of the Western Balkans”, looking as well back to the three previous summits - the 2000 Zagreb, the 2003 Thessaloniki and the 2018 Sofia.
The EU executive will come forward with a robust economic and investment plan for the region aiming to boost the economies while improving their competitiveness, to better connect them within the region and with the EU.
It was very important, twenty years after the first Zagreb summit, to have this occasion to discuss very important challenges that we need to face together, said European Council President Charles Michel after the sitting. He asserted that Western Balkan partners must remain committed to the implementation of reforms, good neighbourly relations and their European path.
In March, political will helped the EU to overcome its divisions to open EU accession talks with North Macedonia and Albania, sending a strong message to the region, President Michel pointed out. He accented on the importance of “implementing bilateral agreements in good faith and with tangible results, including the Prespa Agreement with Greece and the Treaty on Good Neighbourly Relations with Bulgaria”.
The Western Balkans belong in the EU, there is no question for us about this, EC President Ursula von der Leyen said during the video press conference after the meeting, adding that the summit is a testimony that the Western Balkans are “an absolute priority for the European Union and for my Commission”.
She explained that “the European Union has a special responsibility in assisting its partners in the region”, particularly concerning the impact of the coronavirus. The EC President also expressed thanks to the countries in the region for their solidarity with the European Union, mentioning among other examples, that Albanian doctors went to help Italy and that Serbia and Montenegro helped enormously to fly back home EU citizens that were stranded.
She outlined that likewise, the EU has mobilised an unparalleled financial package of over €3.3bn of financial support, designed to help the Western Balkans to address the immediate needs in the health sector and to take the first measures to mitigate the socio-economic impact and to inject liquidity to small and medium sized companies.
Croatia’s Prime Minister, the virtual host of the meeting, stressed that Zagreb Summit is a key milestone and the political legacy of Croatian Presidency. He underlined that along with the decision to open the accession talks with North Macedonia and Albania and the new accession negotiations methodology “we have sent an important message of support to the Western Balkan countries on their way towards the EU”.
Recalling the 2018 Sofia Summit, when the Western Balkans partners reiterated their commitment to the European perspective as their firm strategic choice, Josep Borrell, the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy underlined the work invested in building a common EU-Western Balkans agenda. “I know you have a strong sense of belonging to the Europe that we are building together. As future EU members you also have a joint responsibility to help build a Europe that fulfils our shared values and our common interests”, HR Borrell told the Western Balkan leaders.