A Promise for Rapid Transformation of the Balkans
17 May 2018 was a special day for the Western Balkans (Albania, Bosnia and Hercegovina [BiH], Kosovo, [FYR] Macedonia, Montenegro, and Serbia; hereafter: WB6). On that day, the European Union (EU) – WB6 summit took place in Sofia, confirming officially and institutionally the ongoing process of EU enlargement (BiH and Kosovo have had the status of potential candidates since 2016, while the other WB6 countries are already candidates). The EU is the biggest investor in the Balkans, with EUR 8.9 billion invested between 2007 and 2017 and a further EUR 1.07 billion scheduled for 2018 in pre-accession funds on top of over EUR 10 billion invested since 2013 by the EU companies. The EU is interested in the growth and modernization potential of the WB6 countries, as well as their 18 million potential consumers. In 2016 alone, trade exchange between the EU and WB6 amounted to EUR 43 billion.
The summit talks were summarized in the Sofia Declaration and Priority Agenda. The documents clearly state that enhanced cooperation with the UE will require a display of good will from WB6. Indeed, Macedonia is now closer than ever to ending its naming dispute with Greece, which could see the latter lifting its veto on Macedonian accession. Likewise, a compromise needs to be achieved on the Serbia‑Kosovo line regarding the past of military conflict and the Serbian reluctance to recognize its former province as an independent state. Kosovo and Albania in turn need to tackle problems with organized crime.
Photo: Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina. Flickr, David Bailey, Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)