By: Anita Gužvič / Nova24tv
Tuesday marked the beginning of one of the most important events of the Slovenian Presidency of the Council of the European Union. On Tuesday, the Prime Minister of the Republic of Slovenia, Janez Janša, hosted an informal dinner for members of the European Council, and on Wednesday, the 6th of October 2021, a summit of heads of governments and EU member states, as well as partners from the Western Balkans will take place. The event will be chaired by the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, who will represent the European Union, together with the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen.
The Western Balkans and the credible continuation of the EU integration process are a long-term priority of Slovenian foreign policy, and therefore also a priority of Slovenia as the presiding country of the Council of the European Union. That is why the decision was made that Slovenia would host the EU-Western Balkans summit. The summit is important in terms of promoting a continuous debate on this topic at the highest level, both in terms of deepening the sectoral cooperation, as well as reducing the development gap between the EU and the region and also in terms of political messages on the geostrategic importance of the region for the Union and mutual commitments to credible action in the integration process.
Regarding the Summit, Prime Minister Janez Janša said: “We believe that it is time for the European Union to become more strategic in its thinking and actions in its operating in the world. This is especially true of our immediate neighbourhood. Slovenia, as the presiding country of the Council of the European Union, will therefore focus on EU cooperation with the Western Balkans region, as well as with the Eastern neighbourhood. Slovenia knows very well from its own experience how important the European perspective is for the implementation of reforms in the accession process. This perspective must be tangible and such that its fulfilment can be truly believed in during the lifetime of the current generation, otherwise, it is no longer an incentive. This tangibility must inspire and be the source of the political energy needed to implement urgent reforms at the political level. It needs to be the source of energy and a focus of citizens’ political awareness so that they can support the necessary bottom-up reforms. Our goal is to reaffirm, revive and revitalise the European perspective for the Western Balkans, which was presented at the Thessaloniki Summit as early as 2003. If we manage to do that, then we will prove that we are a strategic player in our neighbourhood. If we are not able to do this, if we do not take a step forward in the Western Balkans, then those steps will be taken by someone else with different interests and values.”
Main items on the agenda
The EU-Western Balkans Summit, hosted by the Slovenian Presidency of the Council of the European Union in Brdo pri Kranju, will bring together leaders of the EU member states and six partners from the Western Balkans: Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, the Republic of Northern Macedonia, and Kosovo. The summit will be chaired by the President of the European Council, who will represent the EU, along with the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen. In the invitation, Charles Michel emphasised that he wanted to have a working discussion on the Union’s role on the international stage in light of recent events in Afghanistan, as well as a discussion on the AUKUS security partnership (Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States trilateral partnership), and the development of our relations with China. “As we agreed in the 2019-2024 Strategic Agenda, we must strive for strategic action and increase our ability to act independently to protect our interests, preserve our values and way of life, and help shape the future of the world. That is why the EU needs to become more determined and effective. Relations with strategic partners, including our transatlantic partners, and new forces, must be a key segment of our strong foreign policy. Our goals in this area have not changed, but due to recent events, we need to think about what would be the best way to achieve them,” he said.
A common understanding of global challenges and how to address them remains crucial, whether related to climate, energy, trade or security. As always, the most important card we can play on is still unity, he said, adding that the EU-Western Balkans Summit would provide a great opportunity to draw attention to the strategic importance of the Western Balkans for the Union and the discussion on cooperation with the region.
Priority items on the agenda at two sessions:
The key stakeholders in this region will also be invited to the first meeting – namely, the Regional Cooperation Council, the European Investment Bank, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, and the World Bank – so that they can present their views on the matter as well. The emphasis will be on strengthening our cooperation in promoting the socio-economic recovery and sustainable development of the region and on better recovery after the pandemic, based on the economic and investment plan for the Western Balkans. The President of the European Parliament will also take part in this meeting.
At the second meeting, which will be attended only by the European and Western Balkan leaders, we will have the opportunity to discuss how to further deepen our political dialogue, security cooperation and strategic engagement and reaffirm our common commitment to a strong, stable and united Europe. It will also be an important opportunity to discuss how to ensure stability in the region, strengthen regional cooperation, and resolve regional conflicts. The summit is part of the EU’s strategic engagement with the Western Balkans, in line with the 2019-2024 Strategic Agenda. It follows the 2018 EU-Western Balkans Summit in Sofia and the 2020 EU-Western Balkans Zagreb summit, which was held via video conference
The summit will consist of a plenary session followed by a leaders-only session.
Discussions will centre around:
- reaffirmation of the European perspective of the Western Balkans, which is of mutual strategic interest and remains a shared strategic choice
- development of our cooperation and the region’s socio-economic recovery, in the context of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic
- implementation of the Economic and Investment Plan (EIP), which sets out a substantial investment package and will generate more sustainable, green, digital and people-focused growth, benefiting the region and Europe as a whole
- intensifying regional cooperation
- exploring further cooperation on political and security matters of mutual concern
For the plenary session, the leaders will be joined by representatives of the European Investment Bank, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the World Bank and the Regional Cooperation Council. At the end of the meeting, the EU leaders are expected to adopt a declaration, with which the Western Balkans leaders are invited to align themselves.
A 30-billion-euro economic and investment plan
The EU is the Western Balkans’ main political, economic and trade partner. Through the Economic and Investment Plan, the EU is now providing unprecedented financial support mobilising some 30 billion euros for the region over the next seven years.
The EU will provide 9 billion euros worth of grant funding through 10 investment flagships.
In this way, the Economic and Investment Plan aims to:
- spur long-term economic recovery
- accelerate a green and digital transition
- support regional cooperation
- foster convergence with the EU
The Economic and Investment Plan will also help attract public and private investments, backed by the Western Balkan Guarantee Facility, which has a potential to mobilise 20 billion euros.
A shared responsibility
The Economic and Investment Plan investments are meant to be a driver for positive change for the Western Balkans. However, this will only be sustainable through a joint effort by all sides. The EU support is therefore linked to tangible progress on the rule of law, socio-economic reforms and adherence to European values, rules and standards.