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W. Balkans needs to do better to build confidence, says Várhelyi

The European Union is serious about the European perspective of the Western Balkans and considers it as one of the main priorities. To progress on their EU path, the governments of the region need to continue to deliver on reforms, European Commissioner for Neighbourhood and Enlargement said Olivér Várhelyi on Wednesday.

Skopje, 24 June 2020 (MIA) – The European Union is serious about the European perspective of the Western Balkans and considers it as one of the main priorities. To progress on their EU path, the governments of the region need to continue to deliver on reforms, European Commissioner for Neighbourhood and Enlargement said Olivér Várhelyi on Wednesday.

In opening remarks for the launch of the Balkan Barometer 2020, he said that further work is required on the rule of law, fight against corruption and organised crime as these are essential preconditions for attracting investment and boosting growth and jobs.

Várhelyi said that the European Commission in the coming days will propose the draft negotiating frameworks for Albania and North Macedonia to the Council of the EU together with an update on the progress made.

Faster tangible results on reforms, according to him, will not only mean moving faster in accession negotiations, as underlined in the enhanced enlargement methodology, it is also what citizens expect.

“Corruption is once again ranked among the biggest problems in the region. According to the Balkan Barometer, worryingly 71% thinks that the governments are not fighting corruption successfully, compared to 61% in 2018. And trust in governance institutions has deteriorated further. The region needs to do better to build confidence,” the Commissioner stressed.

Balkan Barometer 2020, said Várhelyi, provides an invaluable insight into how the people of the Western Balkans perceive our policies.

“Two figures I find particularly interesting. 59% of the respondents thought that EU membership would be a good thing. That is a solid majority and marks an increase of 10% in the last two years. This is clearly good news. Unfortunately, 26% of respondents believe that EU Membership will never happen. This figure is also been on the up in the last year,” the Commissioner said.

According to him, this may reflect the uncertainty about the European perspective of the region after several inconclusive discussion on opening accession negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia. “It is now a thing of the past as the decision to open the talks was taken in March.”

“First, in February, we proposed a revised enlargement methodology. The aim was to make the accession negotiations more credible, more predictable, more dynamic and guided by a stronger political steer. Second, and despite the COVID-19 pandemic, in March the Council adopted a decision to open accession negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia. Our work was disrupted by the pandemic, but nevertheless as third, to support the region hit by this crisis, in April the Commission put forward an unparalleled financial package of €3.3 billion, mobilised together with the European Investment Bank,” Várhelyi mentioned.

The EU, he said, at the Zagreb Summit in May sent a strong signal, reaffirming the region’s European perspective, confirming enhanced engagement and announcing Economic and Investment Plan.

Majlinda Bregu, Secretary General of the Regional Cooperation Council (RCC), said that the regional cooperation continues to grow in prominence with an overwhelming majority of citizens supportive of its role in improving the political, economic and security situation in their home economies.

“77%, and 65% of them believes that what brings Western Balkan citizens together is more important than what separates us. The quick spread of COVID-19 was a grim reminder for all of us of how the disasters ignore borders and that cooperation is maybe the only blueprint that holds the promise of ‘Stronger Together’,” she stated ahead of the Balkan Barometer online presentation.

72% of Western Balkan citizens consider the pandemic outbreak as a high threat for their respective national economies. 68% of people are very much concerned about their own or their family members’ jobs and only one third of them are satisfied with how their governments ensure that people do not lose their jobs, according to Balkan Barometer findings.

“At the same time, the Balkan Barometer reveals that during the pandemic lockdown, 65% of Western Balkans citizens confirm their appreciation of foreign assistance, where overwhelming part of it is from the EU. Majority, or 59% of WB citizens support EU membership, while 71% prefer EU as the most important trade partner of our region,” stated Bregu.

When asked who they consider to be most corrupt, 83% of Western Balkans citizen pointed to political parties, 80% to judiciary, 79% to customs, 76% to health care workers, and 76% to parliaments.

Also Balkan Barometer 2020 shows that brain-drain jumped points as a main concern of our citizens, from 0% in 2015 to 20% now. Staggering 71% of Western Balkans youth think about going to work abroad.

The survey shows that 60% of the business respondents have reduced operations due to the COVID-19 outbreak, while 21% either temporarily closed or completely closed their businesses.

Funded by the EU, Balkan Barometer is the annual public and business opinion survey of the RCC, which examines the perception and expectations on life and work, prevalent socio-economic and political trends and regional and European integration in the Western Balkans.

The 2020 edition presents for the first time the perception and sentiments on COVID19 pandemic Impact Assessment.

In addition to Várhelyi and Bregu, other panelists included North Macedonia’s Foreign Minister Nikola Dimitrov, Albanian Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs Gent Cakaj and Genoveva Ruiz Calavera of the Directorate-General for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Negotiations.

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