Putting the Western Balkans back on the EU agenda has brought about considerable changes in the region

Photo: sofia.bg

Investments, cross-border cooperation and control are some of the priorities that are key to the European perspective for the Western Balkans. This was the conclusion the participants in a seminar on the European perspective of the Western Balkans and Sofia’s contribution agreed on. The seminar was organized in the run-up to the EU-Western Balkans summit in Sofia on 17 May.

Transport, gas and digital connectivity, as well as close contacts among the countries of the region are of critical importance to them so as to be able to counter Russia’s attempts to bolster its influence in the Balkans – this is the opinion expressed by two journalists from France Presse - Danny Kemp and Cédric Simon.

According to Angel Angelov, former ambassador of Bulgaria to Bosnia and Herzegovina, putting the Western Balkans back on the EU agenda has brought about considerable changes in the region. Here are some examples:

“The first example is the friendship treaty between Bulgaria and Macedonia,” Angel Angelov says. “It is a landmark example for all countries of the region that all kinds of issues and problems can be resolved in a civilized manner between two countries, without any outside interference. Just a fortnight ago, the meeting of the South East European Cooperation Process (SEECP) held near Lake Bled conveyed two more positive messages of a change of climate in the region – the next rotating presidencies of the organization go to Bosnia and Herzegovina, as of 1 June this year, and to Kosovo, as of 1 June 2019. Kosovo was elected with the support of Serbia, Romania and Greece which do not recognize it. The second example is connected with the Regional Cooperation Council of the SEECP. There were two candidates for director-general of the Council – from Albania and from Montenegro. After several rounds of voting, neither was elected, so Albania and Montenegro came to an understanding – that Albania take the helm for the first three years, and then Montenegro - for the next three. There was one more example that took place in Kosovo where the agreement was signed on the demarcation of the border with Montenegro – one of the visa liberalization conditions which opens up a European perspective for the citizens of Kosovo.”

In his address, political analyst Antony Galabov focused on the European Commission preliminary draft of the new Multiannual Financial Framework, made public on 2 May. The role of Bulgaria which holds the Presidency of the Council of the EU and will therefore launch the discussions on the framework, is particularly important for the future of the Balkans. To continue to develop, the region will have to increase the funding for investments:

“A look at the cross-border cooperation projects that have been implemented shows that there are two things we need. The first is to increase the funding for this kind of programmes, and to optimize and make a comprehensive analysis of the way money from the funding we already have has been spent. To what an extent are the results we have achieved sustainable? To what an extent does there exist any risk of isolation, within a certain group of organizations on the two sides of the border, having once built good relations, and then closing off any option for this to spread in other directions? In other words, taking that the common European debate is whether to increase funding for individual countries or optimize spending under European programmes, we can say that with regard to the European perspective of the Western Balkans we need both.”

English version: Milena Daynova

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