EU's Olivér Varhelyi: Boosting and connecting the Western Balkans on the EU path

AFP/John Thys

We need the Western Balkans better connected, be it by road or rail between capitals or with the European Union or through ultra-fast broadband internet, Commissioner for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Oliver Varhelyi wrote in his column on Wednesday presenting the recently announced EU's €9 billion Economic and Investment Plan for the Western Balkans, adding that he believes this will help to create solid market economies by stimulating strongly and directly trade and investments.

“Belgrade, Podgorica, Pristina, Sarajevo, Skopje, Tirana. Six capitals of the Western Balkans, at the heart of Europe, but travelling and trading between them and to other capitals of Europe takes twice as long as between cities much further apart. Yet being connected is key: for the lives of the people, for businesses and for the economies of the region, even more so now when we need to boost the recovery after the COVID-19 pandemic. Moreover, the economic development gap between the region and the EU must be closed faster, which will also speed up the integration process of the countries in the EU,” Varhelyi wrote among other things.

These are the reasons why the European Commission this week put on the table a large-scale Economic and Investment Plan for the Western Balkans, he added.

“This Plan foresees to mobilise up to €9 billion of funding for investment flagships in the areas of transport, energy, green and digital transition, to create long-term growth and jobs. In addition, it aims to boost the investment capacity of the region thanks to a new Western Balkans Guarantee Facility, with the ambition to raise investments of up to €20 billion,” he wrote.

According to him, the Plan is also launching a Green Agenda for the Western Balkans because green and digital transitions are the EU priorities for its own recovery.

“We want to bring gas to the Western Balkans to create diversity and to decrease dependencies, while long-term climate neutral solutions like hydrogen could be built on that basis,” Varhelyi wrote.

He also confirmed that international financial institutions stand ready to support EU’s ambitious Plan and that this support will be crucial to maximising the region’s huge potential to ensure the biggest benefits to the citizens and economies.

Varhelyi noted that the Commission also aims to reinforce the regional dimension of our co-operation.

“Together with the Plan the Commission also adopted the 2020 Enlargement Package, assessing the ongoing fundamental reforms in the Western Balkans, and presenting recommendations and guidance on the next steps for our partners. Their dynamic implementation will not only produce long-lasting results, but it will also speed up progress on EU path,” he noted and concluded:

“The future of the Western Balkans is in the European Union.”

You can read the entire column at THIS LINK.