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Statement by President von der Leyen at the Berlin Process Summit for the Western Balkans

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Indeed, we had a very good meeting today. And with Albania in the driving seat for next year, I know that the Berlin Process continues to be in very good hands. Our aim is very clear: It is the aim to bring our Western Balkan partners as close as possible, as fast as possible. And here we have two tracks: One track of work is of course the accession process. There, we have made good progress. The Commission has put enlargement back on the table, from the very first day of my mandate. We have been securing agreement on a new enlargement methodology that opened up ways, not only to unblock decisions – that was very important – but it also brought back credibility to the whole process. Then, we have put on the table a substantive Economic and Investment Plan. It brings EUR 30 billion of investment to the region, which is overall approximately one-third of the GDP of the whole region.

In addition, last year, we had an Intergovernmental Conference with Montenegro. We opened one cluster with Serbia. And this year, we were very happy that we finally managed to have the first Intergovernmental Conference with Albania and North Macedonia and started the screening process. And we made the proposal to Council to give Bosnia and Herzegovina candidate status. I must say, this progress, which is good progress, dear Edi Rama, was possible because of the progress made in the Western Balkan countries themselves, so it is your success.

Indeed, a second track of action is the Berlin Process. And here, the goal is to deepen our economic integration. And yes, we are facing manifold challenges, first and foremost Russia’s invasion of Ukraine that marks a geopolitical shift on our continent. But the longer the Russian war lasts, the more determined we are to stand together and to withstand. We know that our investments in the Western Balkans are not only important for a conducive business environment – this is also the case – but we also know that these investments are investments for peace, stability and prosperity of Europe as a whole.

Against this backdrop, indeed, we discussed in depth the knock-on effects of the Russian war on energy. Therefore, today’s declaration on energy security and the green agenda for the Western Balkans marks a very important step. As the Chancellor already said, we are united in the goal of climate neutrality by 2050 and our climate targets by 2030. If we look at the immediate crisis, it is important that we synchronise our steps. We are in an energy community. Therefore, in the short term, this means for all of us: diversification of energy sources, the reduction of our dependency on Russian fossil fuels, and to keep energy prices in check with joint action.

But we are also aware of the fact that unprecedented crises demand or need unprecedented steps and action. Therefore, I am pleased to announce that the Commission will put forward a substantial energy support package for the Western Balkans. It is EUR 1 billion in grants and it has two different parts. The first part is EUR 500 million in grants as a very immediate financial support for the six Western Balkan countries to put them in a position for the very short term to support vulnerable households and vulnerable businesses. This budget support will be adopted in December and available in January – in other ways: very shortly. The second part, the other EUR 500 million in grants, will be dedicated to  investments in energy infrastructure. These are mainly investments in gas and electricity interconnectors to really have a common grid and interconnection in the region with the European Union. Very important is the emphasis on investments in renewable energy – because this gives us independence, it is clean energy and it creates good jobs at home – and, of course, energy efficiency measures.

In addition, we will strengthen the security of supply by improving and facilitating the access in each other’s energy pipelines and storages. This is for the emergency. So that in case somebody is in trouble, there is solidarity from all of us. And the European Union and the Western Balkans will harmonise their crisis and emergency plans and measures, in a spirit of solidarity and increased neutral resilience. Finally, we are also inviting our partners from the Western Balkans to join us in our European attempt to have a joint procurement platform, so really to develop the strong market power we have if we stick together.  

And this brings me to the second point, the regional integration. That is the development of the common regional market. It is for us a very important stepping stone towards the EU Single Market. Indeed, in this regard, I welcome today’s signature of three very important agreements. The freedom of movement is key to both. It is of course key to the development of the common regional market, but it is also key to the integration of the Western Balkans in the European Single Market. It is about the people – be it students, be it professionals. They will bring the region forward.

Therefore, the agreement is so important for 18 million people to move freely within the region. Professionals can tap their full potential, regardless of where they work. The professional qualifications – be it of skilled workers, students, researchers, medical doctors, dentists or architects – will all be recognised throughout the Western Balkans. Very important is also that the national ID cards will be accepted at every border. These measures will not only boost intra-regional travel in the Western Balkans, but it will also strengthen personal and cultural bonds between the people of the region. In the very end, it is always the same good old story that has always been at the heart of the European project. It is enhanced cooperation and harmonisation that bring peace and prosperity to all. We should use every opportunity to get closer with our Western Balkan friends.

Thank you, once more, for a very good Berlin Process.

Search : https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/STATEMENT_22_6527

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