BRUSSELS – The European Commission yesterday adopted the new growth plan for the Western Balkans, with the stated intention of bringing some of the benefits of membership to the region before accession, by boosting economic growth and accelerating socio-economic convergence.
The European Commission has built the growth plan for the Western Balkans around four key pillars. The first pillar focuses on strengthening economic integration with the European Union single market, while the second pillar aims to boost economic integration within the Western Balkans through the regional common market.
The third pillar aims to accelerate fundamental reforms, while the fourth pillar aims to provide increased financial assistance to support these reforms through a Reform and Growth Facility for the Western Balkans. The European Commission plans to implement these measures between 2024 and 2027.
As part of this growth plan, each Western Balkan partner will be invited to prepare a reform program based on existing recommendations, including the annual enlargement package and the conclusions of the economic and financial dialogue based on the reform programs economic (ERP) of the countries. The agenda will be consulted, evaluated and adopted by the Commission.
The reform program will identify a limited set of priority reforms, broken down into qualitative and quantitative steps that will serve as payment conditions. Once achieved, they will trigger the release of funds under the new Reform and Growth Facility according to a predetermined timetable.
As part of this growth plan, the Commission has identified seven initial priority areas that the EU could offer to the Western Balkan countries. Such integration would bring substantial economic benefits to the region and ensure a level playing field among the enlarged countries.
The seven priority areas are: the free movement of goods, the free movement of services and workers, access to the Single Euro Payments Area (SEPA), the facilitation of road transport, the integration and decarbonization of energy markets, the digital single market and integration in industry. supply chains.
The Commission plans to propose amendments to the Stabilization and Association Agreements (SAAs) which would introduce a mechanism allowing SAA bodies to extend the rights and obligations of the EU acquis to the Western Balkans once ‘they will meet the necessary conditions. This mechanism would allow SAA institutions to adopt annexes containing a list of single market legislation (“acquis”) in specific areas. Western Balkan countries would transpose this legislation into their national legislation and surveillance rules.
In terms of financing, the new Western Balkans Reform and Growth Facility will provide essential support for the implementation of the new growth plan and its four pillars through significantly increased financial assistance. The proposed facility will cover the period 2024-2027 and would provide financial support in the form of non-repayable support (up to €2 billion) and loans (up to €4 billion) through direct disbursements to national budgets or in the form of capital. investment financing through the Western Balkans Investment Framework (WBIF).
The new growth plan for WB countries builds on existing expansion methodology and creates a set of mutually reinforcing measures that will multiply the potential benefits of each action. According to the document, it also provides more incentives and benefits from integration before EU accession, with the aim of speeding up accession negotiations. The plan highlights the urgency for rapid action, with the aim of the growth plan producing tangible changes within the coming year.
According to the Commission, the growth plan will encourage countries to accelerate the adoption and implementation of the acquis. Furthermore, as previously noted, a strong focus on integration within the Western Balkans region should help governments focus on their future as EU members and overcome bilateral challenges.