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news 12 Jul 17

Balkan-EU Summit to Discuss ‘Common Market’

Collaborative economic projects will be high on the agenda at the Trieste Summit of leaders from the EU and Western Balkan countries, as well as the prospects for EU expansion in the region.

Dusica Tomovic
BIRN
Podgorica
Photo: Pixabay.

Wednesday's summit in the Italian city of Trieste is expected to focus on financial programmes, a customs union and common market, but also the so-called ‘Marshall Plan for the Balkans’ – a German scheme to use EU funds to finance large-scale infrastructure projects in the region.

The prime ministers of Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia will meet in Trieste to sign a document on the establishment of the Western Balkan economic area, getting rid of non-tariff trade barriers and harmonising laws in order to attract more investment.

The EU initiative aims to create a single market of 20 million people with support from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development which has so far invested 10 billion euros in the region.

EBRD Vice-President Pierre Heilbronn said on Thursday that removing non-tariff trade barriers would be the first step in an initiative in which the EBRD and its stakeholders hope will re-engage Balkan states "unnerved by the EU's fading enthusiasm for enlargement and exposed to Russia's growing influence", Reuters reported.

"This region is very important for Europe," Heilbronn said.

The Trieste summit is part of the Berlin Process, a five-year process that started in August 2014 and is marked by annual summits in order to underline the commitment to EU enlargement in the Western Balkans region. Last's years was hosted by France.

The focus of the initiative is on Balkan countries that are not yet EU members: Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia.

The high-level meeting in Italy is expected to host both Angela Merkel, the chancellor of Germany, and Emmanuel Macron, the president of France, as well as the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs, Federica Mogherini, and Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn.

“Our strategy has the final purpose to have these six countries as EU members,” Hahn said ahead of the Trieste meeting.

The summit will also include a discussion about an integrated digital network that will allow member countries to cut tariffs on roaming services within the single economic area, as well as infrastructure and connectivity, regional cooperation and youth.

The Balkan leaders will also discuss a proposal from Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic to establish a Balkan customs union.

The proposal includes the renunciation by member countries of internal tariffs and duties, the removal of all restrictions on the movement of goods and as the adoption of common customs tariffs.

However, Kosovo and Montenegro already expressed it doubts about the customs union.

Before the summit, a Civil Society Forum was organised on Tuesday with a debate featuring politicians and civil society representatives talking about the socio-economic and political challenges facing the region.  

The European Commission together with the Italian Government will also organise an EU-Western Balkans Youth forum on the margins of the Trieste summit to “explore further areas of cooperation”.

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