The Western Balkans Summit: What progress has been made?

As part of the Berlin Process, European leaders from the EU and the Western Balkans recently met to discuss building stronger links between the two regions, and how this can be achieved going forward. The summit took place in London and among those attending were ministers from EU member states, including Angela Merkel and Theresa May; as well as ministers of interior from the Western Balkans, foreign ministers and heads of government.

The main focus of the summit was improving growth and security within the region, and achieving greater regional cooperation in preparation for integration of the Western Balkans, which the EU hopes to achieve by 2025. The Berlin Process was initiated in 2014 to improve relations and speed up the integration process for Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia.

Regional security was top of the agenda, with the EU focusing on issues like corruption, tackling serious and organised crime, violent extremism, terrorism and the trafficking of people. EU High Representative Federica Mogherini noted that in recent year, the  EU had seen “remarkable results” within the region and had moved forward with many of these issues. “The Western Balkans are steadily moving forward. And today we reconfirm that we are together with the region on that path, sharing the commitment towards our common future,” she added.

Additionally, the EU set out its plans for putting more focus on the economic stability of the region. This includes creating an environment that promotes entrepreneurship and new businesses, as well as tackling youth unemployment.

To support this, the European Commission has announced that, alongside partner financial institutions, it will be introducing the “guarantee instrument”. The aim of this is to boost private investment for new startups, particularly in the social and digital sectors. The EU say that this could be launched as early as next year and the initial commitment from the EU will be up to 150 million euros.

The Western Balkan states have also agreed to cooperate more when it comes to fighting crime, including radicalisation, cyberattacks and organised crime gangs. The EU commissioner for enlargement, Johannes Hahn, noted at the summit: “In all these countries I face a certain reluctance to address properly rule of law issues. It is a must for the EU. I admit our member states are becoming more and more impatient on this issue because they see this is as crucial – the fight against corruption, media reform and independence of judiciary.”

Nikola Dimitrov, the Macedonian foreign minister and one of the most pro-reform figures in the Balkans, said: “The ultimate goal is to be a European democracy, but it is really high time our region stepped it up and took responsibility. We do not have the luxury of missing a golden opportunity.”

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