The plan, according to von der Leyen, would include efforts to further align the Western Balkans with the EU’s single market, deepen regional economic integration, accelerate judicial and anti-corruption reforms and increase funding for pre-accession.
“The Western Balkans could join our digital single market in areas such as e-commerce and cybersecurity,” the president said. “We could facilitate our exchange of goods and our payments,” she noted.
The EU has recommitted to supporting Western Balkan countries since Russia invaded Ukraine, amid growing concerns among officials about Moscow’s influence in the region.
“I want our single market to be an engine of change, not only for the countries that have already joined the family, but also for those who are still on the way,” argued von der Leyen.
Speaking just after von der Leyen, Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama, whose country officially began accession negotiations with the EU last July – 13 years after first applying for EU membership – said welcomed the new pledges of support.
“Not only do we completely agree with what Ursula said, but we think this is a life or death issue for us, for all of us,” Rama said. “We have to get something more and something has to fundamentally change in the relationship between the European Union and the Western Balkans if they don’t want to see the Western Balkans go backwards again.”