Enhancing EU engagement with the Western Balkans
Employment, education, social policies, governance, the digital agenda and youth – areas included in the European Commission’s six new initiatives to support the path towards EU integration for the Western Balkans.
‘The European Commission is charting the European path ahead for the Western Balkans,’ European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said, referring to the new Strategy, presented to the European Parliament on 6 February. ‘Investing in the stability and prosperity of the Western Balkans means investing in the security and future of our Union. With strong political will, real and sustained reforms, and definitive solutions to disputes with neighbours, the Western Balkans can move forward on their respective European paths.’
The Strategy includes six flagship initiatives covering the rule of law, security and migration, socio-economic development, transport and energy connectivity, the digital agenda and neighbourly relations, with concrete actions foreseen between 2018 and 2020. The initiative for Socio-Economic Development includes support to start-ups and SMEs, a focus on employment and social policies, in particular education and health. The initiative for the Digital Agenda focuses on boosting digital skills and infrastructure.
High Representative/Vice-President Federica Mogherini says the strategy provides a ‘shared, clear, unequivocal, credible and concrete perspective’ for each country’s integration. ‘To make the process of the Western Balkans towards the European Union irreversible and keep reuniting the Continent.'
Commissioner for European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations Johannes Hahn said the Union door is open. ‘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.’
Comprehensive reforms and reconciliation
The EU's enlargement policy is part of the larger strategy to strengthen the Union by 2025 set out by President Juncker in his 2017 State of the Union speech and Roadmap for a More United, Stronger&nbs p;and more Democratic Union. In order to meet the EU membership criteria, comprehensive reforms must be realised, in particular, through the rule of law - fundamental rights and governance, judicial reforms corruption and organised crime. Public administration and economic reforms must address structural weaknesses, low competitiveness and high unemployment rates. Reconciliation and solving open issues is another key focus area.
Next Steps on the EU path
The EU is the most important investor, political and trade partner of the Western Balkans. To deliver on the Strategy, the Commission proposes to gradually increase funding under the Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance (IPA) until 2020. In 2018, €1.07 billion of pre-accession assistance for the region is foreseen, on top of almost €9 billion 2007-2017.
The Strategy explains the steps that need to be taken by
Montenegro and Serbia – the only two
countries with accession talks already underway - to complete the accession
process in a 2025 perspective. Albania and the former
Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia are making significant progress on
their European path. With sustained effort and engagement, Bosnia and
Herzegovina could become a candidate for accession.
Kosovo* has an opportunity for sustainable progress through
implementation of the Stabilisation and Association Agreement.