The European Commission adopted on Tuesday a strategy for ‘A credible enlargement perspective for and enhanced EU engagement with the Western Balkans’, confirming the European future of the region as a geostrategic investment in a stable, strong and united Europe based on common values.
The European Commission announced six flagship initiatives – specific actions that the EU will take over the next years to support the transformation efforts of the Western Balkans in areas of mutual interest. These range from initiatives to strengthen the rule of law, reinforced cooperation on security and migration through joint investigating teams and the European Border and coast guard, expanding the EU Energy Union to the Western Balkans or lowering roaming charges and rolling out broadband in the region. The Strategy also underlines the need for the EU to be prepared to welcome new members once they have met the criteria.
The Strategy was presented by European leaders in a plenary session of the European Parliament on Tuesday.
Photo: EPA/PATRICK SEEGER
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said in his address that investing in the stability and prosperity of the Western Balkans means investing in the security and future of the Union.
"Although there will be no further enlargements under this mandate, today the European Commission is charting the European path ahead for the Western Balkans. With strong political will, real and sustained reforms, and definitive solutions to disputes with neighbors, the Western Balkans can move forward on their respective European paths. Whether this is achieved will depend on their objective merits. The European Commission will be rigorous but it will also be fair. I will travel to each of the countries of the Western Balkans at the end of this month with a clear message: keep reforming and we will keep supporting your European future", he underlined.
EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini stressed that the Western Balkans is part of Europe.
"We have a common interest in working more and more closely together to guarantee to our people economic and social development, and security. This strategy shows the path that we have ahead of us: for all our six partners to overcome once and for all the past, for all of us together to make the process of the Western Balkans towards the European Union irreversible and keep reuniting the Continent. This Strategy gives all of us a shared, clear, unequivocal, credible and concrete perspective for each and every one of our six partners’ EU integration. The next months will be not only intense but also crucial to make sure that this historic and unique opportunity is seized", she concluded.
European Commissioner for Neighborhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations Johannes Hahn also addressed the Parliament, saying that "today we confirm that the door of the Union is open for the Western Balkans, which is already an enclave surrounded by the EU, and that our offer is sincere".
"With the new approach, underpinned by concrete measures, we are strengthening the enlargement process which requires credible efforts and reforms in return in particular to strengthen the rule of law. We have to work for the benefit of the citizens”, added Hahn.
In order to meet the EU membership criteria and in their own interest, the Western Balkans need to implement comprehensive reforms in crucial areas. The rule of law, fundamental rights and governance must be strengthened significantly. Judicial reforms, the fight against corruption and organised crime, and public administration reform need to deliver real results and the functioning of democratic institutions need to be seriously enhanced. Economic reforms must be pursued with vigour so that structural weaknesses, low competitiveness and high unemployment rates are addressed.
All countries must unequivocally commit, in both word and deed, to overcome the legacy of the past, by achieving reconciliation and solving open issues, in particular border disputes, well before accession to the European Union. There needs to be a comprehensive, legally-binding normalization agreement between Serbia and Kosovo so that they can advance on their respective European paths.