Albania desperate to keep EU momentum as it gathers Western Balkan leaders in Durrës

western balkan leaders
Informal meeting of Western Balkans leaders in Durrës, Albania

Durrës, Albania | Aug 28 (Tirana Echo) – Albanian prime minister Edi Rama has emphasized the need to remove barriers and accelerate EU integration of the Western Balkan countries in order to boost their economies and create employment for the region’s youth.

Rama’s comments were made in the Albanian port city of Durrës, during an informal meeting of regional representatives. EU Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn and EBRD President Suma Chakrabarti were also present.

While the meeting was attended by Montenegro’s PM Duško Marković and Kosovo’s PM Ramush Haradinaj, the prime ministers of Bulgaria, Macedonia and Serbia were unable to attend due to unforeseen reasons.

Rama said it would be necessary to use the great potentials of the common territory in order to remove barriers, facilitate trade and cooperation, just as EU countries have done in the past among themselves.

If we note how former communist economies have transformed since they joined the European Union, we would understand that the future image of our region should be seen upon the mirror of the EU”, – said Rama during his speech in Durrës.

Montenegro’s PM Duško Marković said the meeting was a good opportunity to look at current achievements and what needs to be done in the region.

We clearly agreed today that our action plan should be the agenda which keeps us all moving, in order to grow our economies and create better employment opportunities of our youth”, – said Marković.

EU Commissioner for Enlargement Johannes Hahn said the EU had taken important decisions about reaffirming the European perspective of the Western Balkans in the past few months, noting the February Western Balkans Strategy and the first EU-Western Balkans Summit in 15 years, in Sofia this year.

EU membership requires more than the rule of law reforms. We need a boost for growth, jobs and prosperity for the region along the path to membership: this will the decisive factor to convince both your own citizens, as well as those of today’s EU, that our joint ambition of EU membership is win-win”. – Hahn told Balkan leaders.

Talking on better investment opportunities, Hahn noted that “establishing a ‘single’ market of 18 million people is a game changer for untapped private investors looking for market opportunities and attracting the investment you need to become prosperous EU Member States”.

The informal meeting in Durrës comes weeks after the European Council agreed to prepare the ground for opening membership talks with Albania and Macedonia by next year, while the European Commission has recommended a visa free regime for Kosovo’s citizens.

While skepticism towards Brussels is growing across several EU member states, the European Commission and Balkan leaders are desperate to keep the EU membership momentum, fearing other external influences from Russia, Turkey or China might take over the region.

However, EU leaders have told Balkan countries they need to get their act together before they can join the block, by tackling organized crime and corruption and strengthening their rule of law and judiciary systems.

The region’s accession is further hampered by inter-ethnic conflicts in Bosnia-Herzegovina and disagreements between Serbia and Kosovo.

The EU has told Serbia and Kosovo that it must settle their differences before either can be admitted to the bloc, while hopes Greece and Macedonia will finalize the ‘North Macedonia’ name agreement in coming weeks.

While the European perspective, at least on paper, has been reaffirmed, French President Emanuel Macron recently dashed Balkan membership hopes a the summit in Sofia when he said that the enlargement process has weakened Europe and that France is not in favor of future enlargement “before having made a real reform to allow a deepening and better functioning of the European Union”.

The European Union prepares for elections next year across its 27 members, after the United Kingdom exits the club.

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