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Joint statement of Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the Western Balkan Six

We, the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the Western Balkan Six (WB6), in the presence of other Ministers of the Berlin Process’Participants, representatives of EU institutions and the Regional Cooperation Council, ensuing our meeting in Skopje, agreed on the following:

Skopje, 11 March 2020 

We, the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the Western Balkan Six (WB6), in the presence of other Ministers of the Berlin Process’Participants, representatives of EU institutions and the Regional Cooperation Council, ensuing our meeting in Skopje, agreed on the following:

1. Building on the Final Declaration of the Zagreb Summit of 2000, the 2003 Thessaloniki Summit Agenda, the 2018 Sofia EU Western Balkans Summit Declaration and Priority Agenda, along with previous commitments for reforming our societies and enabling more robust regional cooperation in the light of European integration, we reiterate our sustained commitment to adhere and promote the core European values: democracy, rule of law and respect for fundamental rights, which are also the main engines of economic integration and the essential anchor for fostering regional reconciliation and stability.

2. Being integral part of the European continent and having in mind our shared past and joint future, we
hereby reaffirm our strategic interest of becoming member states of the EU while building a peaceful, stable and economically prosperous region within a strong and united Europe. We hereby reaffirm that it is in our own interest and responsibility to shape our democracies in line with the European values and standards.

3. By addressing ‘fundamentals’ first – such as the independent judiciary, fight against organized crime and corruption, public administration reform, sound economic governance, freedom of expression and media, human rights, protection of minorities as well as good–neighbourly relations – we strengthenour own political and economic stability and align ourselves with the rest of the European continent. These fundamentals will become even more central in the accession negotiations.

4. We underline the importance of strengthening democratic institutions and making democratic processes more inclusive and commit to undertake further reforms to ensure that the principles of division of powers, check and balances, freedom of expression and the rights of persons belonging to minorities, including Roma are respected in practice. We acknowledge that more robust measures are needed on this path.

5. We hereby extend our readiness to proactively engage in making a direct contribution to the realisation of the vision for a stronger Union in the global world; fostering a European way of life, guarded by vibrant and resilient European democracy; thriving economies whichsecure both social equality and progress; and a climate-neutral continent; utilising the best of the modern technologies of today’s digital era.

6. Heading forward, the region should strongly demonstrate its maturity, embrace ownership, inclusiveness and ambition to generate an added value for all. Our region is and will be a reliable partner in coping with common challenges of the EU, based on its genuine will for reforms and concrete results.

7. WB6 configuration already achieved a lot bringing plethora of successful and thriving regional initiatives such as – Regional Economic Area, Common Electricity Market, WB Regional Roaming Agreement, etc. It is time now to further deepen the scope of the WB6 cooperation and make it much more result-oriented.

8. In this regard we pledge to further employ the Regional Economic Area, based on CEFTA and EU rules and principles as reflected in the Stabilisation and Association Agreements (SAAs). If the region does not work together, the accession to the EU will not work either. Regional cooperation is sine qua non if we wish to accelerate our own EU accession processes.

9. In this respect we welcome the renewed focus of the EU on our region and we support the ongoing deliberations on how to improve the accession process in the light of the EC Communication of February 5, 2020 on the Enhancing of the accession process. We believe that it infuses a new political quality, restores the credibility of the process while adding new dynamism and predictability. In this regard we underline the importance to complete the visa liberalisation for all of the WB6 as soon as possible. We also look forward to Council’s deliberations on this issue as well on a positive decision on opening accession negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia at the March European Council.

10. Approaching the renewed efforts in good faith, we believe that they should boost credibility and trust and lead towards a more dynamic, assessable and objective accession process, of shared benefit for the EU, the MS, EU candidates and potential candidates. They will also lead to de facto accession to the EU.

11. Observing the accession process as an instrument that bridges the standards gap between the Member States and the membership aspirants; it provides both the foundation and the tools that allow for healthy competition, offering an incentive for intensified reform engagement. Insisting on a vigilant, merit-based and objective criterions on one hand, and a clear recognition of reform progress on the other, will move the process forward and retain the value of progressive change.

12. Our efforts towards an integrated region can give additional impetus to our European integration.We would like to hereby send a strong and clear political message on the importance of a credible enlargement process and anattainable EU perspective for the whole region and underline that the efforts for enhanced regional cooperation are contingent on the joint push for an amplified European accession process. It is incumbent for us to achieve a breakthrough on this road as soon as possible.

13. We share the view that the Berlin Process (BP) and other regional initiatives are not a substitute for the EU enlargement. They serve to consolidate and maintain the dynamics of the EU integration process for WB6. We commend the Joint Presidencyof the Republic of Bulgaria and the Republic of North Macedonia, a pattern employed for the first time in the BP, offers clear prospects for strengthened regional ownership.

14. Connectivity and further implementation of the Regional Economic Area remains the key component of the BP. We commend the clear focus of the Joint Presidency, driven by the wish of “deepening versus widening” and on fostering a comprehensive approach to connectivity. The latter aims at improving the economic cohesion and the connectivity in the region in all its aspects (transport, people-to-people contacts, new technologies, digital integration, energy, economy, youth, environment, education etc.).

15. We also commend the envisaged priorities of the Joint Presidency. Efforts to promote enhanced regional integration, connectivity and facilitated movement of goods, services, capital and people will keep our economies vibrant and our industries competitive. This should be guided by the principle of all inclusiveness and represents an added value of the process. We remain supportive of a continued collaboration in the creation of the most adequate instruments to drive the convergence between the EU and the region on the political, economic, legal and civil society domains.

16. We paid attention of the deliberations of the Think-Tank Forum (TTF) co-organized by the Institute for Democracy “Societas Civilis” – Skopje and the European Council on Foreign Relations – Sofia Office, which was held before the ministerial meeting. Following our interaction with the representatives of the think-tank community, we would continue the dialogue with regional CSOs, taking into account the importance of their role in crafting public policies and in EU-related decision-making processes.

17. With a view to achieving concrete deliverables for the Sofia Summit 2020, we support the plans of the Joint Presidency to pursue close cooperation with all our partners, including the European Institutions, the Regional Cooperation Council, the participants in the Berlin Process, the International Financial Institutions and other relevant stakeholders.Striving for synergy and complementarity, close cooperation with both the Croatian and the German Presidencies of the Council of the European Union, will be crucial, in order to keep the European perspective of the Western Balkans high on the EU Agenda and to ensure tangible results in terms of sustainable stability, peace and prosperity in the region.

Joint statement of the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the Western Balkan Six

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