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EU leaders reaffirm Western Balkans’ EU perspective at Zagreb Summit

In the midst of a global health crisis, the leaders of the Western Balkan countries and the EU members have managed to keep the Zagreb Summit on the agenda, which is a sign - according to them - that the region remains the EU's "absolute priority", MIA's Brussels correspondent reports.

Brussels, 7 May 2020 (MIA) – In the midst of a global health crisis, the leaders of the Western Balkan countries and the EU members have managed to keep the Zagreb Summit on the agenda, which is a sign – according to them – that the region remains the EU’s “absolute priority”, MIA’s Brussels correspondent reports.

The declaration adopted at the Wednesday summit is primarily focused on the coronavrirus crisis and the solidarity expressed by the two sides in getting through the pandemic and its socio-economic challenges.

The package of over EUR 3.3 billion, distributed to meet the needs of the six Western Balkan countries, and access to instruments made available to the countries in the region to provide them swiftly and quickly with the needed protective and medical equipment are only a few of the initiatives launched by the EU to demonstrate its commitment to the Balkan region.

Once the negotiations start for the 2021-2027 EU Budget, the bloc has pledged it will pay special attention to the Western Balkans by establishing a so called Economic and Investment Plan. It aims at supporting economic recovery of the countries in the region.

All EU funds designed for the region will be subjected to tough control by the EU institutions so as to prevent any misuse of the funds. Also, any mishandling will be investigated and prosecuted.

Even though the summit wasn’t dedicated to the enlargement process, the EU perspective wasn’t omitted, however the enlargement pledge wasn’t as strong as the messages conveyed at the 2000 Zagreb Summit and the 2003 Thessaloniki Summit.

The enlargement process and accession negotiations have revealed many shortcomings over the years. Serbia and Montenegro, the two countries currently negotiating to become EU members, yesterday were ranked as ‘hybrid regimes’, which makes a case for the EU countries calling for a change of the negotiating process, most notably France.

In this context, the adoption of the new negotiating methodology was warmly welcomed alongside the decision to open negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania. The EU leaders noted that the new revised methodology will accelerate the EU integration process of the countries having political will and capacity to join the organization by creating a more efficient and more political process.

Democratic standards, according to Croatian PM Andrej Plenković, are here to accelerate the process, negotiations is a transformation process and the more a country is engaged the more it prospers. His country currently holds the six-month rotating presidency with the EU, which ends on July 1.

The Croatian PM said the EU had delivered on the expectations of the countries in the region.

The European Council President, Charles Michel mentioned that only a few months ago, the EU couldn’t find a consensus on the enlargement issue, alluding to the veto to the opening of talks with North Macedonia and Albania last fall. By now, the EU stakeholders claim the differences have been settled.

“Because of our political engagement we took the decision on North Macedonia and Albania, and our message is very strong. After the COVID-19 crisis it will be of utmost importance to develop a strong strategy, insist on easing tensions and implementing reforms both on the short and long term,” noted Michel.

However, the process will inevitably slow down due to the global health crisis.

“The pandemic is an enormous challenge regarding the enlargement timelines,” said Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, adding that the crisis could be used to consolidate the process.

The region’s European perspective has also been reaffirmed in the Zagreb Declaration.

“We had an opportunity to once again confirm the European perspective of our partners from the Western Balkans. This is an important signal that reforms in the rule of law, fighting corruption, press freedom must continue,” underlined Michel.

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