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news 04 Jul 16

Brexit Result Overshadows Balkan Summit in Paris

Infrastructure and youth are the states priorities of the Western Balkans Summit in Paris but the high-level meeting, starting on Monday, is likely to be overshadowed by the UK's vote to leave the EU. 

Dusica Tomovic
BIRN
Podgorica
Photo: Pixabay.

The political implications of the UK referendum on the EU may well hijack a high-level conference on the economic prospects and European perspectives of the Western Balkan states that opens in Paris on Monday.

The summit includes senior politicians from the EU and the Balkans under the patronage of the French President, Francois Hollande.

Regional leaders, including prime ministers, foreign ministers and economy ministers, hope the EU help fund a number of major infrastructure projects.

They also seek Brussels' approval that they are on the right path in terms of the EU integration process.

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

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

It was announced that the main topics of the summit in Paris will be "infrastructure and connectivity", regional cooperation and youth.

The Western Balkan summit will also include discussions on a free flow of goods across the region with no stops at EU borders. The European Commission will also table a proposal for an integrated electricity market in the Western Balkans.

However, the UK's decision to leave the European Union now threatens to dominate the summit in Paris as Britain's decision will have political and economic effects on Balkan countries.

Despite moves by leaders in the region to downplay the potential impact of a "Brexit", ahead of the Paris meeting, concerns have started to emerge.

On Wednesday, the Albanian Foreign Minister, Ditmir Bushati, said that Monday’s meeting between the EU and Western Balkan countries will focus more on "the divorce with Britain than on new marriages with Balkan countries.

"It must not be forgotten that during this year, there has been a chain of referendums and all these developments have a direct impact," Bushati said.

Croatia joined the EU in 2013, following the former Yugoslav republic of Slovenia. Six more regional states are now waiting to follow suit: Montenegro, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, and Albania, together home to around 20 million people.

Before the summit, the Civil Society Forum will stage a debate including politicians and 200 civil society representatives on the socio-economic and political challenges facing the region. Transversal issues of democratic governance, the role of civil society and respect of fundamental rights will be addressed.

Ahead of the summit, meanwhile, the Regional Youth Cooperation Office of the Western Balkans, RYCO, will be promoted. The Prime Ministers of Macedonia, Albania, Serbia, Kosovo, Bosnia and Montenegro are expected to sign an international agreement on the establishment of the office, which will start operating on January 1, 2017.  

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