European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and Neighborhood and Enlargement Commissioner Olivér Várhelyi attended the Western Balkans Summit in the context of the so-called 'Berlin Process', organized by German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
The Summit brought together for the 8th time, the Heads of Government from the Western Balkans and their counterparts from nine EU Member States, high-level representatives of the EU and the United Kingdom, to move forward in their regional cooperation and the European integration agenda.
During the Summit, the Commission reaffirmed its commitment to cooperation and support for the region in its post-pandemic recovery through the Economic and Investment Plan, focusing on green and digital transition investments, smart mobility links, sustainable energy, digital infrastructure and business sector development and human capital, including youth. The Commission also called for further progress in the economic integration of the Region to reap the full benefits of the planned investments.
The Commissioner for Neighborhood and Enlargement, Olivér Várhelyi, stressed that closing the socio-economic gap between the Western Balkans and the EU is essential for the Enlargement process.
‘Closing the socio-economic gap between the Western Balkans and the EU is essential to the Enlargement process. We are bringing significant investment opportunities to the region through the Economic and Investment Plan, worth close to € 30 billion. It is now up to the region to make good use of them to its full economic potential and to establish a Common Regional Market based on EU rules. The creation of 'Green Lines' at border crossings within the whole region first, and now piloting this with an EU Member State is a perfect illustration of how this can work,' said the Commissioner for Neighborhood and Expansion, Olivér Várhelyi.
Today's Summit focused on the progress made by the region in economic integration under the Regional Common Market Action Plan from the Sofia Summit last year 2020 and on the implementation of the Economic and Investment Plan presented by the Commission last autumn.
Following the facilitation of border crossing logistics during the pandemic, through the creation of the so-called 'Green Tracks', this initiative is now entering a new phase. Greece expressed its political will to support the extension of the 'Green Lanes' initiative in the Western Balkans and its commitment to work towards its implementation at the designated border crossing points between Greece and the neighboring countries of the Western Balkans - Albania and North Macedonia.
This year’s summit was also an opportunity to celebrate the full entry into force on 1 July 2021 of the Regional Roaming Agreement, which is removing roaming tariffs within the region. The next step in preparation is for the gradual abolition of roaming tariffs between the Western Balkans and the EU.
For the implementation of the Economic and Investment Plan for the Western Balkans, the Commission announced that it intends to propose an investment package of € 500 million in 2021. The package will be dedicated to the main projects under the Plan, subject to the approval of the new framework for the Instrument of Pre-Accession Assistance (IPA III) expected in the coming months.
Moreover, following the EU decision to consider the entire Western Balkans and in order to further help the Western Balkans to mitigate the economic and social impact of the COVID-19 pandemic , a package will provide financial and technical support for the Western Balkans to join the EU Digital Certificate COVID-19. This will facilitate travel between the Western Balkans and the EU.