Home Venture Capital The integration of Western Balkan partners into the EU represents a geostrategic investment in peace, says the EESC

The integration of Western Balkan partners into the EU represents a geostrategic investment in peace, says the EESC

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During its plenary session in March, the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) organized a debate with Olivér Várhelyi, Commissioner for Neighborhood and Enlargement, to discuss the progress of the accession of the Western Balkan partners. EESC members have demonstrated their conviction that the integration of Western Balkan partners into the EU constitutes a geostrategic investment in peace and economic growth.

The president of the EESC, Christa Schwengopened the debate by underlining the great importance that the EESC attaches to the process of EU enlargement to the Western Balkans: Our committee sees the Western Balkans as the missing piece of the puzzle in the European Union’s ambition to create a united and sustainable Europe, a Europe ready for the future. The enlargement of the European Union, and in particular the spread of its democratic values ​​and legal standards in the Western Balkans, is in the interest of both the region and the European Union.. Ms Schweng also highlighted other priorities linked to the EU’s neighborhood policy, such as the preparation of the Eastern Partnership summit or a proactive trade policy, and concluded by saying: Furthermore, I am convinced that the European Green Deal must be extended to our neighborhood, supporting economic and investment plans..

Óliver Várhelyi welcomed the fact that the EESC remains so strongly committed to the Western Balkans and said: Our common goal is to strengthen democratic societies in the enlargement region.. He discussed the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in the Western Balkans and stressed that the European Commission is determined to continue supporting our closest neighbors with everything it can during these difficult times.

According to the commissioner, the current focus is on providing vaccines to the region as quickly as possible. This is proving more difficult than we had hoped, but I am very pleased that the COVAX facility, to which the EU is among the largest contributors, is now delivering the first doses of vaccine to the Western Balkans.he said.

Mr Várhelyi also presented the Commission’s report Economic and investment plan for the Western Balkansa 9 billion euro initiative with two major objectives: firstly, to boost economic recovery, and secondly, to improve the region’s convergence with the European Union. The ambition of the plan is to strengthen not only the economic development, resilience and competitiveness of the region, but also its social cohesion. We must work together to achieve thisunderlined Mr. Várhelyi.

EESC recommendations

The debate with Mr Várhelyi was followed by the adoption of an opinion on Strengthening the accession process – A credible European perspective for the Western Balkans. In this opinion, EESC members welcome the revised enlargement methodology adopted by the Commission in 2020 to make the process “more credible, predictable and political”. According to this methodology, the negotiation chapters will be organized into thematic groups and negotiations on each group will be opened as a whole.

The rapporteur of the opinion, Andrey Zorkounderlined the importance of the enlargement process: The integration of Western Balkan partners into the EU represents a geostrategic investment in peace, stability, security and economic growth across the continent; Placing enlargement lower on the EU’s list of priorities would make it easier for foreign powers – notably Russia and China – to thwart the bloc’s efforts to anchor the Western Balkans to the EU..

The opinion adopted by the EESC includes ambitious recommendations, such as the proposal to enable political leaders and citizens from the Western Balkans to participate in activities and discussions organized within the Conference on the Future of Europe (CoFoE). Ionut Sibienneco-rapporteur of the opinion, underlined: Western Balkan partners share the same interests and problems as the EU and can contribute to EU discussions on all political issues mentioned in the Joint declaration on the Conference on the Future of Europe.

This proposal is linked to the pessimistic view of citizens of Western Balkan countries regarding the EU accession process. A recent survey indicates that 82.5% of citizens are in favor of joining the EU, but around 40% of the population of Serbia, Albania, North Macedonia, Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina believe that this is not will not happen before 2040, or that it may never happen.

To counter this feeling, the EESC opinion contains proposals aimed at speeding up the accession process. For example, given the difficulties encountered by Member States in reaching unanimity on enlargement, the EESC believes that the Council should re-examine the possibility of introducing qualified majority voting, at least for all intermediate stages of the EU accession process. As Andrej Zorko stated, this does not mean taking shortcuts; the conditions of membership, in particular the democratic consolidation of the region, should remain non-negotiable. But the Union’s approach to the region must not only be tough, it must also be fair, delivering promised rewards when they are due..

Along the same lines, the EESC believes that EU support for enlargement countries should be generous and go well beyond access to EU programmes. The adopted opinion suggests gradually opening the European Structural and Investment Funds to the Western Balkan countries, extending the use of financial stability mechanisms, allowing the region to participate in the common agricultural policy or allowing the circular migration.

According to the opinion, the EU should also invest in the development of horizontal civil society structures and provide expertise, technical support and regional and international networking opportunities to social partners and other civil society organizations (CSOs). ) of the Western Balkans. We also call on the Commission to define more clearly the notion of “key stakeholders”. The EESC is convinced that CSOs should be better recognized and given a greater role in the enlargement process.added Ionut Sibienne.

The opinion also welcomes the adoption of the Economic and Investment Plan and the specific objectives of the Green Deal for the Western Balkans, as useful tools that will contribute to the region’s recovery from the COVID-19 crisis . It also includes recommendations in other areas such as improving education systems, fighting corruption and preventing violations of fundamental rights.

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