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News 05 Jul 16

Paris Summit Boosts Serbia's EU Hopes

The Western Balkans Summit in Paris produced good news for Serbia's accession talks after Commissioner Johannes Hahn said Croatia had agreed not to block the opening of two important chapters.

Sinisa Jakov Marusic
BIRN
Serbian PM, Aleksandar Vucic in Paris. Photo by: Beta

The EU integration process of the Western Balkans remains alive but needs new energy, senior participants at the Western Balkans Summit in Paris said on Monday.

"The enlargement perspective of the Western Balkans is alive and as valid as ever," Commissioner Johannes Hahn said at the summit dedicated to the region's EU perspectives, addressing fears that the UK's negative vote on the EU on June 23 could have a negative impact on further EU enlargement.

During the summit, Hahn also tweeted that the summit was already bearing results, announcing that Croatia, which had opposed the start of Serbia's EU acession talks, had given its consent for the opening of chapters 23 and 24 in the Serbian talks, dealing with the rule of law, the judiciary and human rights.

The summit that gathered top EU and Balkan leaders, diplomats and finance ministers, comes against a background of serious questions over the EU’s future after British voters opted to leave the EU.

The six Western Balkan nations that suffered through wars and political breakups in the 1990s worry that they now face more obstacles to their membership bids as the EU struggles to stay together.

"There is much work ahead of us. I cannot say the doors will be wide open but we will have an opportunity to speed up our EU accession, if we do our job right," Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic said in Paris during the summit, conveying the hopes of other Balkan leaders as well of support for their EU accession bids.

This year’s summit is part of the Berlin Process, a five-year process started in August 2014, marked by yearly summits held to underline the EU's commitment towards the Western Balkans. Last's years event was hosted by Austria.

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

"Euro-integration remains our top priority" macedonian PM Emil Dimitriev said at the summit. "I expect concrete agreements from Paris that would confirm the support for the process."

In his speech at the summit's Economic Ministreal, Commissioner Hahn underlined several key endeavors led by the EU in the region aimed at boosting its economic performance while the countries prepare for EU membership.

Hahn noted plans to strengthen the rule of law and economic governance in all countries of the region, to ensure long-term development.

"One of our biggest challenges for preparing the Western Balkans countries for the EU is restructuring the economic model, to ensure that all countries are functioning market economies, and driven by export and investments rather than import and consumption," Hahn said.

He added that the EU is working closely with the countries' governments on developing a hydropower master-plan for the Western Balkans, adding that it is of key importance that more emphasis is put on regional energy trading and on opening up the rail-traffic market.

He announced 96 million euros for three railway infrastructure projects in Serbia, Albania and in Kosovo and an aditional 50 million euros for green environmental measures.

Before the summit, the Civil Society Forum staged a debate including politicians and 200 civil society representatives on the socio-economic and political challenges facing the region.

The conclusion of most participants was that the civil society must be strengthened across the Balkans to offer democratic support amid weak governments and often declining respect for basic civil rights.

Ahead of the summit, the Regional Youth Cooperation Office of the Western Balkans, RYCO, was also promoted.

The Prime Ministers of Macedonia, Albania, Serbia, Kosovo, Bosnia and Montenegro signed an international agreement on the establishment of the office, which will start operating on January 1, 2017.

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