• Saturday, 11 May 2024

Growth Plan for Western Balkans - opportunity for company growth, youth mobility, digital innovation, medical procurement

Growth Plan for Western Balkans - opportunity for company growth, youth mobility, digital innovation, medical procurement

Skopje, 18 April 2024 (MIA) - Free Internet access in public spaces, access to the Single European Payment Area – SEPA, green lanes at border crossings, joining European Hubs for Digital Innovation, as well as EU medical procurement, are just some of the benefits that citizens and companies will receive with the Growth Plan for the Western Balkans.

The Growth Plan instrument, which is EUR 6 billion for the entire Western Balkans, will be implemented between 2024 and 2027, and the funds will complement the Instrument for Pre-accession Assistance IPA 3, which the country is already using, significantly increasing financial assistance for all partners in the region, told Thursday's press briefing on the European Commission's Growth Plan for the Western Balkans, organized by the Secretariat for European Affairs with the support of UNOPS.

The Growth Plan is an opportunity for company growth, youth mobility, daily relations with EU members, inclusion in the EU market. It is also focused on fight against corruption and establishing a better rule of law system, and it is a clear message from the EU that they want to see our citizens and states in the Union.

The financial assistance will be linked to the reform dynamics in each country.

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The government at its Tuesday session approved of the submission by the Secretariat for European Affairs of the preparation status of the Reform Agenda 2024-27 as part of the Growth Plan for the Western Balkans and adopted an aligned version of the Draft Reform Agenda. The updated Draft Reform Agenda is being shared with the European Commission to align reform priorities and measures — with specific deadlines proposed by North Macedonia — with the European Union. The alignment of the Draft Reform Agenda should be completed by April 26, 2024, and the final version of the Reform Agenda should be adopted by the middle of May 2024 at the latest. 

The reform agenda is important, because EU member states do not want to support the financial package without the reform agenda being adopted, because they see this plan as a mechanism for accelerating reforms, as it has been pointed out for a long time that Western Balkan countries do not make enough reforms. The mechanism is to encourage them to make more reforms in order to get more funds and more money.

The Growth Plan should significantly speed up the effect of all socio-economic benefits on the country's path to full-fledged membership, and this should complement and support the process of negotiations, it should not be a substitute for it, it should not be in conflict with it, but be in support to that process, the press briefing pointed out.

Funds from the Growth Plan for the Western Balkans would be paid twice a year. North Macedonia's priorities are: management or reform of public administration and public finance management; digital, energy, or green transition; human capital; business environment; and the rule of law.

With the plan, the EU commits to apply one of the largest investment strategies, and commits to integration of the region through joint cooperation and assistance of a total of EUR 6 billion, consisting of EUR 2 billion in grants and EUR 4 billion in concessional loans, in order to help with the reforms related to bringing the region closer to the European standard and the common market.

At the Western Balkan leaders summit in Tirana at the end of February, the EC presented 4 proposals with concrete roadmaps, which present a real possibility for accelerated accession. A joint statement was also adopted at the summit, in which the leaders undertook to start a structured dialogue with the EC and the member states, in order to implement the Growth Plan.

This is a serious chance to peg down the European agenda and to see concrete benefits for citizens from the process of accession to the EU before membership - that is the main goal of the mechanism of the Growth Plan, as well as an accelerated approach to the EU, which will enable the region to essentially become part of the European system every day, Thursday's press briefing said.