I believe we have a renewed incentive and clear political support for the enlargement process and the accession negotiations. We should seize this chance and use it for the benefit of all citizens, Prime Minister Zoran Zaev said in an opening address at Tuesday’s Western Balkans Summit in Sofia, held as part of the Berlin Process under the joint chairmanship of Bulgaria and North Macedonia.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the countries’ PMs Zoran Zaev and Boyko Borissov are attending the event in person, while other Western Balkan leaders are taking part online via videoconference link.
In his address, Zaev said the fact that the Berlin Process is for the first time co-hosted by two countries – one that is a candidate from the region to join the EU and the other a neighboring EU country – is a clear proof that the region has strongly accepted the process as its own and that this cooperation has provided North Macedonia and Bulgaria with an excellent platform to further foster bilateral ties, the government said in a press release.
PM Zaev underscored the new dynamic in the EU accession process of the Western Balkan countries, particularly after the March meeting of the European Council where the leaders approved the revised negotiating methodology and a decision on the opening of negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania, the Zagreb Summit in May, and the European Commission’s enlargement package and the Economic and Investment Plan.
Alongside Germany’s EU presidency, he added, the dynamic presents an excellent opportunity for the Western Balkan region to make progress toward the EU.
By announcing EUR 9 billion in grants, supported by the new Western Balkans Guarantee Facility, with the ambition to raise investments of up to €20 billion, EU has boldly affirmed its support for the Western Balkans, said PM Zaev, noting the package offers large financial support to the reform processes and economic transformation of the region.
“I’m very happy that today we’ll have the opportunity to discuss key strategic goals for our region, the vision for a common regional market and the Western Balkans Green Agenda. Support to the two initiatives through the declarations of the Western Balkan leaders should bolster development in the region and put an emphasis on some of the current environmental and health challenges with a huge potential for growth and job creation,” Zaev stressed.
In his opening address, PM Zaev said the foundation for economic, social and green transformation of the region has been laid, adding the region has shown its maturity and resilience during the pandemic.
“The pandemic has further united the Western Balkans in the fight against the invisible enemy, introducing tolerance and cooperation and raising awareness that humanity is above politics,” Zaev noted.
During the Berlin Process joint chairmanship, he said, several other processes were also promoted, including a regional agreement on traveling with IDs only, expansion of green lanes in the Western Balkans toward EU corridors, and strengthening of cooperation in healthcare as a regional response to the pandemic, as well as cooperation with the civil society mainly on youth-related issues.
“I’m confident that with our achievements throughout the year, we’ve managed to enrich regional cooperation and bring the region closer to the EU,” North Macedonia’s PM said, who welcomed the Western Balkans Summit of the Berlin Process alongside Bulgarian PM BoykoBorissov.