EU commissioner calls for Western Balkans common market

EU commissioner calls for Western Balkans common market
By Valentina Dimitrievska in Skopje March 16, 2017

EU Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn proposed establishing a common market for the Western Balkans countries during his address to the Sarajevo summit March 16.

Hahn’s proposal is in line with the initial idea of the Berlin process, aimed at integrating the Western Balkans countries with the EU and launched in 2014. The advantages of a joint market would be "immeasurable", according to the commissioner, and would result in at least 80,000 new jobs in the region by 2025.

“Our ambition is to remove barriers and create a single space for economic development. It will also make clear a longer-term aim of integrating the Western Balkans common market into the EU’s internal market,” Hahn said in a statement following the Sarajevo summit.

The summit was attended by the prime ministers of six Balkan countries - Serbia, Macedonia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Montenegro, Albania and Kosovo. The six countries are at different stages of the EU integration process. Only Serbia and Montenegro have so far succeeded in launching EU accession talks.

Hahn said that the Western Balkan countries first should connect their markets and then integrate into the common market of the EU.

The commissioner added that trade integration in the Western Balkans has developed positively since the six countries joined the Central European Free Trade Area (CEFTA) 10 years ago.

However, intra-regional trade flows did not grow enough during these years, as only around 20% of total CEFTA exports take place within the region, and the figure is just 10% for imports.

“By comparison, exports from the Western Balkans to the EU almost doubled during the same period, reaching 70% of total exports for the region. Imports increased by 40% reaching 60% of total imports for the region,” Hahn noted.

According to Hahn, Western Balkans export patterns are still dominated by low-skill, low-tech and natural resource intensive products.

Hahn announced that during the Trieste summit due to take place on July 12, the European Commission will announce a substantial increase in the budget for the Western Balkans Enterprise Development & Innovation Facility (EDIF), in order to help businesses, particularly small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), to work together to develop the opportunities in the region.

The leaders of the six countries said in a separate joint statement they are fully committed to the EU accession perspective.

Macedonia was the first country from the region to obtain EU candidate status in 2005, but failed to start negotiations due to its unresolved name dispute with Greece.

Albania is expected to launch EU membership talks in 2017 if it implements judicial reforms and holds free and fair general elections on June 18. Bosnia applied for EU membership in 2016 and is expected to get candidate status this year. Kosovo is also a potential candidate country.