The European Union (EU) has unveiled an ambitious plan to provide a substantial investment of 6 billion euros ($6.4 billion) to support the Western Balkan countries in their quest for reforms and eventual integration into the EU. This development was announced by Ursula von der Leyen, the President of the European Commission, during her visit to Skopje, where she emphasized the significance of this opportunity for EU enlargement.
The Western Balkan nations, including North Macedonia, Albania, Kosovo, Serbia, Montenegro, and Bosnia and Herzegovina, are encouraged to embark on comprehensive reforms aimed at aligning their standards with those of the EU. Von der Leyen stressed the need for alignment in crucial areas such as the free movement of goods and services, transport, and energy.
Furthermore, the EU is urging the Western Balkan countries to establish a common regional market, a move that will require substantial reforms. For instance, North Macedonia is expected to overhaul its business environment, enhance the efficiency of public administration, maintain sound public finances, combat corruption effectively, and amend its constitution to recognize Bulgarians as a minority, as per Bulgaria's request.
The EU's growth plan for the region also includes opening its common market to the Western Balkans and offering financial support to facilitate these necessary reforms. Von der Leyen announced the initial disbursement of 100 million euros in micro-financial assistance and set an ambitious goal of doubling the economies of the Western Balkan nations within the coming decade.
During her visit to Kosovo, von der Leyen stressed the importance of granting greater autonomy to the Serb minority through the establishment of an association of municipalities. This step is seen as pivotal in normalizing relations with Serbia and gaining access to the EU's Growth Plan.
Despite past promises of EU membership, progress in the accession process has been slow in the Western Balkans. Challenges include the reluctance of some EU member states and the need for comprehensive reforms across the region. Serbia and Montenegro are the furthest along in their EU membership talks, with Albania and North Macedonia initiating talks in the past year. In contrast, Bosnia and Kosovo are still in the early stages of the accession process. The EU's commitment to this new investment plan underscores its determination to support these nations on their path towards integration and development.