In a pivotal move to reinvigorate the accession process for the Western Balkan countries, the European Union emphasizes comprehensive economic reform and the establishment of a regional single market as critical precursors to full EU membership, the International Trade Council (ITC) has learned.
While the nations of Albania, Bosnia, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia, and Serbia have been in the EU accession queue for several years, progress has stalled. This slowdown is attributed to a mix of factors: the hesitance among existing EU members and a perceived shortfall in essential economic and governance reforms within the aspirant countries.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, at the Berlin Process summit in Tirana, underscored the untapped economic potential of the Western Balkans. "Integrating the Western Balkans' market with the larger European single market is no longer an option but a necessity to harness the economic vigor of this region," von der Leyen asserted during a press briefing in Tirana.
The Berlin Process, a German-led venture fostering enhanced cooperation in the Western Balkans, played host to an array of leaders, including European Council President Charles Michel, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, and Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama. The discourse centered around a strategic growth blueprint, opening the EU’s sprawling market to the Western Balkans, contingent upon transformative reforms across sectors like goods and services, transport, energy, and digital markets.
"The European Union is not just offering a roadmap; we are also committing financial support to drive these reforms," von der Leyen stated, alluding to the substantial investment funding the EU is prepared to inject, conditional on the Balkans' adherence to the reform agenda.
In light of the 30-billion-euro economic stimulus proposed by the EU in 2020, a robust 16 billion euros have already been mobilized in investments across the region. The EU Commission's analysis indicates that a regional common market could potentially catalyze a 10% economic upswing collectively for the Western Balkans.
Reaffirming the Berlin Process's centrality, Scholz emphasized its instrumental role in expediting the Western Balkans' EU integration. "Conformity with EU standards is not an abstract concept; it's a tangible goal that will come to fruition with each stride you take towards a unified regional market," he conveyed.
A testament to the growing regional unity, Serbia, Albania, and North Macedonia recently pioneered mobility accords, facilitating free travel and work among the trio with mere identity cards. In a recent accord, all six countries committed to the mutual acknowledgment of professional qualifications, marking a milestone in regional cooperation.
While Serbia and Montenegro have been at the forefront in initiating EU dialogue, and Albania and North Macedonia recently dove into negotiations, Bosnia and Kosovo are noticeably trailing in their EU accession journey. The International Trade Council views these developments as a positive signal for enhanced trade relations and economic stability in the region, which are vital for international trade and global investors.