President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen visited North Macedonia’s capital Skopje at the start of a four-day trip to the region. During her visit, she discussed details of a 6 billion euro investment program that EU leaders presented earlier this month at a Western Balkans meeting in Albania. The package aims to boost the economies of Western Balkan countries seeking to join the EU.
However, this requires reforms.
The Commission President said she believed that, if properly implemented, the decade-long investment program could significantly improve the region’s economy.
“I am here today mainly to tell you and the citizens of North Macedonia that you are on the right path to joining the European Union. I look forward to welcoming you. You, Mr Prime Minister, have described the improvements and progress made over the past few years. I must say that it is incredible to see the progress that North Macedonia has made,” the Commission President said at a press conference with the Prime Minister of North Macedonia. Dimitar Kovachevski.
But we need to do more. We need to bring our economies closer together,” added von der Leyen.
The European package represents a great opportunity for North Macedonia, as it could double its economy in just 10 years. Despite promising figures, North Macedonia’s economy still has to catch up, at 42% of the European Union’s average income.
The goal therefore, von der Leyen said, is to work together and achieve significant economic growth within a decade. To achieve this, the EU is presenting the new growth plan for the Western Balkans, which includes four crucial steps.
The EU has identified four pillars to strengthen relations between the European single market and the Western Balkans regional common market. The plan will provide access to seven crucial sectors of the European single market, encourage and complement the opening of the regional common market to neighboring countries.
Positive reforms are needed, including creating efficient public administration and sound public finances, improving the business environment and ensuring the independence of the judiciary while fighting corruption. Thus, a program of 6 billion euros will support positive reforms.
“So it’s about reforms and investments. Why are we offering this? Because we have had very good experience with this principle within the European Union,” von der Leyen said. “We have an investment plan for our member states called NextGenerationEU. We implemented it after the pandemic. And it works the same way: reforms and investments. It works wonderfully. So we thought: why not extend this principle also to our friends in the Western Balkans? The Growth Plan will stimulate your economy. Most importantly, it will create good jobs. And at the same time, it will also, of course, support you on your path to the European Union,” stressed the President of the Commission.
“I think it’s the right offer at the right time. The Plan has the potential to double the size of your economy in a decade. That’s the point. And this will play an important role on your path to the European Union,” she stressed.
“Therefore, one day I am absolutely convinced that we will welcome North Macedonia with its unique identity and its own language. Today we already have 24 different languages in the European Union. And one day we will count the Macedonians among them. We had very good discussions today – thank you very much for that,” concluded von der Leyen.