The Secretary of State at the German Foreign Ministry, Miguel Berger, in an interview with DW talks about the most immediate issues to be resolved regarding the Western Balkans.
Miguel Berger underlined that the EU is doing a lot for the future of the Western Balkans. For example with the Economy and Investment Plan, which reach to multibillion-dollar amounts and focuses on, inter alia, ecological and digital transformation and connectivity.
"The EU is and will remain the closest and most reliable partner of the six Western Balkan countries. There is some disappointment, but during my trip to the region I also experienced a closeness and a great interest in the EU. But we, the EU, must make it clear that we take the Western Balkans' path to the EU seriously. That is why it is so important that enlargement negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia start as soon as possible," said Berger.
He also added that the Berlin Process, initiated by German Chancellor Angela Merkel in 2014, to promote regional cooperation should be seen as a supporter of the EU enlargement process. The pace of the region's EU integration is really unsatisfactory. Last year, the European Union modified the enlargement procedure in order to give more dynamism to the enlargement process, but also to the necessary reforms. "The EU also supports the countries of the Western Balkans financially. In response to the difficult situation created by the pandemic in the region, in April 2020, the region was given an emergency aid package, amounting to 3.3 billion euros. In October 2020, the European Commission presented an Economy and Investment Plan, with a total volume of up to 9 billion euros, for the medium-term economic recovery of the Western Balkans. All this underlines that the EU continues to be very engaged and offers various incentives to promote the reform processes in the Western Balkans, as well as to promote the integration of countries into the EU," he said.
As regards Open Balkan Berger stated that they want a sustainable strengthening of cooperation between the six countries of the Western Balkans.
"We are following this approach in the Berlin Process. In the Regional Cooperation Council, for example, much progress has been made in the G6, even with the support of the EU. In principle, of course, any regional cooperation in the Western Balkans is to be welcomed. But on the other hand, it is important that regional co-operation be comprehensive and open to all six Western Balkan countries. By this I mean both the development of new ideas and initiatives, as well as their implementation. This is an approach to which the participants in the "Berlin Process" are committed and which is also promoted by the EU.
It is crucial for us that at the last summit of the Berlin Process, on 5 July, the heads of state and government of the six Western Balkan countries, at the invitation of Chancellor Merkel, reaffirmed their efforts to bring the Common Regional Market to life. This is a truly historic project, pledged by the six Western Balkan countries at the Berlin Process Summit in Sofia in November 2020. In this context, with the support of the RCC Regional Cooperation Council, all four agreements are being negotiated, including an agreement on the free movement of people with identity cards and an agreement on the recognition of academic and professional qualifications. These are agreements that will bring real improvements for people in the region, for example, visas will no longer be needed for travel between Kosovo and Bosnia and Herzegovina," he said.
"It is crucial for us to advance the work for the Common Regional Market of the six countries of the Western Balkans in the framework of the Berlin Process. This is very important, because the Common Regional Market, which will be established by 2024 is the main precondition for the successful implementation of the EU Economic and Investment Plan in the region.
We expect a clear signal that the European path of the region will continue. Therefore, we very much hope that we will be able to avoid the current obstacles in order to finally start the accession negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia, which has been approved since March 2020. The solution is on the table - in June it was expressly supports 26 EU member states," Berger said.