Western Balkans leaders embrace EU Growth Plan at regional summit

Western Balkans leaders embrace EU Growth Plan at regional summit
North Macedonia's Prime Minister Dimitar Kovacevski at a joint press conference with US Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs James O'Brien. / bne IntelliNews
By Valentina Dimitrievska in Skopje January 22, 2024

Leaders from the Western Balkans and EU officials gathered in Skopje on January 22 to discuss the EU Growth Plan for the region, recognising it as an opportunity to implement vital reforms and narrow the convergence gap with the European Union.

The European Commission unveiled the ambitious investment package in October 2023. It is a total of €6bn in size, consisting of €2bn in grants and €4bn in loans, aimed at propelling development across the six Western Balkan countries.

Hosted by North Macedonia's Prime Minister Dimitar Kovacevski, the leadership meeting dedicated to the Growth Plan for the Western Balkans drew leaders from the region, high-ranking EU representatives, officials from the United States, and international financial partners.

Serbia’s President Aleksandar Vucic, Albania’s PM Edi Rama, Kosovo’s PM Albin Kurti and Montenegro’s PM Milojko Spajic were among the leaders present at the meeting.

They were joined by Gert Jan Koopman, director general for neighbourhood and enlargement negotiations at the European Commission, Marko Makovec, deputy director general for the Western Balkans at the European External Action Service (EEAC), and US Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs James O'Brien.

While no joint news conference was held, separate press conferences were conducted with media from each leader's respective country.

During the summit, Kovacevski stressed the Growth Plan's significance as a concrete action by the EU to foster regional cooperation and integration into the common European market.

He underscored that the plan represents the most substantial political confirmation from the European Union, demonstrating a tangible commitment to efficient European integration in the Western Balkans.

"The gross domestic product per capita should be doubled with the implementation of the Growth Plan, which depends on the EU but, above all, on us, the countries of the Western Balkans," stated Kovacevski.

In a joint declaration, leaders of the Western Balkans affirmed their commitment to execute a comprehensive plan centered on phased integration into the EU Single Market, intensified regional economic integration, swift implementation of fundamental reforms, prioritising democracy, fundamental rights and values, and upholding the rule of law.

This encompasses efforts to combat corruption and restrain political interference in independent institutions. 

Additionally, the leaders stressed the importance of increased financial support through the Reform and Growth Facility, as an opportunity to invigorate the enlargement process and surmount obstacles impeding progress.

Vucic said that Serbia might secure its initial funds from the EU Growth Plan as early as May or early June, contingent on the prompt adoption of legislation and government formation, Tanjug reported.