In a groundbreaking development, the European Union's 6-billion-euro growth plan for the Western Balkans is being hailed as a potential game-changer that could lead to a doubling of regional economies in the coming decade, according to an EU official. Leaders from the six Western Balkan countries, including Albania, Bosnia, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia, and Serbia, convened in Skopje to discuss the necessary reforms to access the EU growth plan outlined last October.
Gert Jan Koopman, the European Commission's Director-General for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Negotiations, expressed optimism about the growth plan, emphasizing its potential to significantly impact the region's economies positively.
The EU's growth plan encompasses opening its common market to Western Balkan countries, allowing for the free movement of goods and services, as well as advancements in transport and energy sectors. However, this initiative is contingent on the implementation of crucial reforms and the resolution of outstanding issues among the participating countries.
"The growth plan means 6 billion euros for the whole region, and the amount of money we will get depends on the good works that we do," stated Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti ahead of the meeting.
Despite promises of EU membership in the past, the accession process has faced obstacles, primarily due to hesitancy among the EU's 27 members and a lack of comprehensive reform in the region. While Serbia and Montenegro have initiated EU membership talks, Albania and North Macedonia commenced discussions with Brussels in 2022, with Bosnia and Kosovo lagging behind.
Representatives from financial institutions, including the European Investment Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, were present at the Skopje meeting. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, James O'Brien, discussed procedures to lower fees for money exchange and expedite customs procedures for trucks transporting goods from the Western Balkans into the EU.