Western Balkans sign historic agreements in Berlin

Western Balkans sign historic agreements in Berlin

The heads of state and government of the six Western Balkan countries signed three agreements on Thursday (3 November) as part of the Berlin process. They are thus sending a positive signal in the run-up to the crucial Western Balkans summit, which will take place in Albania in December.

Chancellor Olaf Scholz and senior EU officials – Ursula von der Leyen and Charles Michel – joined leaders from Serbia, Kosovo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Albania at the Berlin Process Summit.

“Europe is not complete without the Western Balkans and the countries of the region must have confidence in the Berlin Process”said Herr Scholz, who organized the rally.

Initiated in 2014 under the aegis of former German Chancellor Angela Merkel, this format aims to promote rapprochement between the six Western Balkan countries and certain EU countries and promote integration between the states of the region.

Mr. Scholz said the six countries of the Western Balkans “belong to the free and democratic part of Europe”who stress the need to fulfill their longstanding desire to join the EU.

In their joint communiqué, the participants agreed to hold the next summit of the Berlin Process in 2023 in Albania. The country will also host the next Western Balkans Summit on December 9, 2022.

More mobility

After two years of intense negotiations, the six countries have reached agreements aimed at facilitating the free movement of citizens throughout the region, as well as the mutual recognition of the professional qualifications of doctors, dentists and architects. Currently, the recognition of these documents can cost up to 500 euros.

Not only are these agreements considered a step forward for regional integration, they are also of particular importance in the context of the current tensions between Belgrade and Pristina.

Minor incidents have been reported at the border between the two countries in recent days, as Pristina began implementing a law requiring all its citizens to carry Kosovan license plates.

This measure has repercussions for the Serbian ethnic group in the north, who insist on keeping the license plates issued before Kosovo’s independence.

Scholz said he hopes the new mutual recognition agreement will pave the way for further reconciliation between the two countries.

“It is time to overcome regional differences that have long divided you, and the process of normalizing relations between Kosovo and Serbia must be accelerated.”added M. Scholz.

The Chancellor said Russia’s war in Ukraine has increased the need for a resolution “to safeguard the freedom and security of Europe”. Otherwise she could “To divide them and keep their countries on the way to Europe”, he added.

No progress on visa liberalization for Kosovo

With the release of the 2022 EU Enlargement Report, Kosovo has made no progress on visa liberalisation, leaving the matter in the hands of EU member states, despite demands from the European Commission and Kosovo.

The deal came just weeks after several Western Balkan media outlets published a Franco-German non-paper on the normalization of relations between Kosovo and Serbia.

While its existence has been confirmed by Belgrade and Pristina, opinions differ as to its contents. The media reports that the plan envisages Belgrade accepting Kosovo’s independence without officially recognizing it in exchange for financial benefits and the prospect of EU membership.

In a speech in Berlin, Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama praised Mr Scholz’s role in the negotiations of the three agreements.

“I can’t help but emphasize that these agreements were three agreements that we had been waiting two or three years for; they were stuck”said Lord Rama.

“The EU continues to support the Western Balkans”

Referring to EU enlargement, Mr. Rama also said that countries in the region finally feel they are not left behind.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen’s recent tour of some Western Balkan countries has brought significant financial support beyond simple solidarity speeches, Rama added, citing the €80 million earmarked for energy investments in his country.

His comments come as the EU enlargement process, largely due to the war in Ukraine, has suddenly been revived after nearly a decade of stagnation.

For the EU, enlargement is no longer a one-way street

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the changing geopolitical landscape have made it clear that the EU’s strategic interest in a stable and secure environment in its immediate neighborhood must go beyond who will be the next member.

Last week, the EU executive announced a €500 million energy aid package for the region. The announcement comes as war-related energy price hikes in Russia and the onset of winter are sending shockwaves through European economies already grappling with rising inflation.

“The European Union continues to support the Western Balkans, in good times and bad”said Frau von der Leyen in Berlin.

“We are investing in the region’s economic fabric to drive the clean energy transition and emerge greener, stronger and more sustainable from the current crisis”She added.

Berlin is considering expanding the EU “takes on new urgency due to the war in Ukraine and new geopolitical upheavals”said a senior German government official.

Meanwhile, strengthening regional cooperation is key to countering Russian influence in the region, EU diplomats have said in recent weeks.

“Russia’s strategy was to manipulate the divisions within the Western Balkans. We want to counteract this. We want to strengthen cooperation between these countries. And we want to bring them closer to the EU.”said a senior German diplomat on condition of anonymity.

Reference: www.euractiv.fr

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