The European Commission has proposed a plan to accelerate the de facto integration of the Western Balkans with the European Union and make membership benefits tangible even before these countries complete their accession to the EU.
This was stated at a briefing by European Commissioner for Neighborhood and Enlargement Olivér Várhelyi.
The Commissioner noted that this plan is a “powerful response” to the European Council’s task of accelerating the enlargement process.
Olivér Várhelyi explained that it is about bridging the economic and social gap between these countries and the EU and de facto integration of the region, which will allow these countries to experience the benefits of EU membership before they complete the accession process.
The key point is to open the so-called “four freedoms” of the European Union: freedom of movement of goods, capital, services and freedom of movement to the Western Balkans as soon as possible – “as soon as they are ready for it, taking on all the obligations arising from our commitments and rules.”
As a counter-requirement, the European Commission asks the region’s countries to “treat each other as they plan to treat all EU members” – which should contribute to the region’s stability, security and prosperity.
The next point is to accelerate essential reforms in the Western Balkans with the assistance of the European Union, with detailed plans for each country.
Thirdly, the European Commission proposes to the European Council to increase its financial contribution to support the transformation of the Western Balkans and provide an additional 6 billion euros of support.
“This should make the intensity of assistance commensurate with our Structural and Cohesion Funds by the end of the current multi-annual financing plan,” Várhelyi said, adding that this should significantly boost the region’s development.
In a report published on November 8, the European Commission recommended starting accession talks with Bosnia and Herzegovina “as soon as the criteria are met” but also noted problems with Republika Srpska.
As for Ukraine, the European Commission recommended that EU states start accession talks with Kyiv. Still, before that, Ukraine must implement some of the reforms that still need to be implemented.