Western Balkan leaders happy with EU investment plan

TIRANA, Albania (AP) – Western Balkan leaders meeting Thursday in Tirana, the Albanian capital, expressed satisfaction with a vast investment plan announced for the region by the European Union – which they hope all join one day.

Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama described the investment plan as “the EU’s biggest historic step towards the Western Balkans”. He said this would lead to “a fundamental improvement in road, rail and port infrastructure, interconnectivity, the energy sector and digitization”.

Thursday’s talks in Tirana brought together the leaders of Albania, Serbia, Kosovo, Bosnia, North Macedonia and Montenegro.

EU Enlargement Commissioner Oliver Varhelyi said the project would mobilize € 9 billion ($ 11 billion) and potentially increase investment to € 20 billion ($ 24 billion) in 2021-2027 for the region, which has a combined population of around 18 million.

It aims to stimulate a long-term recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and to better connect regional economies with each other and with the EU.

As a first success, Varhelyi announced the free use of mobile phones while roaming in the region.

But Varhelyi warned that the plan “will only work if the region itself works for its regional market,” urging closer cooperation in a part of the Balkans that was ravaged by war during the bloody outbreak. of the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s.

The countries of the Western Balkans are at different stages of integration with the bloc.

Montenegro and Serbia have already started full membership negotiations while Albania and North Macedonia expect to start them. Kosovo and Bosnia signed the Stabilization and Association Agreement, which is the first step in a long process.

The bloc is also pushing for the normalization of relations between former enemies Serbia and Kosovo. Their next talks should resume next week in Brussels.

“We have to recognize that the EU, the European Commission have done their job so far,” Rama said. “Now we should do our own. “


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