EU sets targets and pledges billions to Balkan countries to join bloc

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and North Macedonian Prime Minister Dimitar Kovacevski attend a welcome ceremony, during European Commission President's visit, in Skopje, North Macedonia October 30, 2023. REUTERS/Ognen Teofilovski

The President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, stated in Skopje that, unlike the previous Commission’s tenure, there are currently concrete discussions on enabling enlargement of the European Union, indicating an open window of opportunity.

Von der Leyen started her tour of the Western Balkan capitals in North Macedonia’s Skopje, with the primary aim of introducing the new EU Growth Plan for the region. In a joint press conference with North Macedonia’s Prime Minister Dimitar Kovačevski, von der Leyen addressed inquiries regarding the review of the French-German Report for EU reform and the feasibility of achieving EU reform by 2030 to accommodate new members. Von der Leyen underlined the necessity for North Macedonia, Albania, Kosovo, Serbia, Montenegro, and Bosnia and Herzegovina to grasp this “window of opportunity” for EU enlargement.

“Things really changed for the better, because what we see now is a true momentum in the process for enlargement. We want the Western Balkans to join the EU, and for that, you need to get ready, and we need to get ready. And it is very good that now concrete discussions have started in the EU: what do we have to do to get ready, what are the questions that are open, and what are the answers that we have to give?”, von der Leyen said.

She further urged and encouraged progress in the various Western Balkan countries, highlighting the opportunity for advancement. She affirmed this process is not fixed but based on merits. The more robust the reform process, the swifter the path to accession.

During the press conference, von der Leyen unveiled the Growth Plan amounting to 6 billion euros in grants and loans for the Western Balkans. Out of this amount, two billion euros will be in grants and four billion euros in loans. The EU’s strategy is to bring the region closer economically before political integration. This would allow the Western Balkans to benefit from certain privileges. Benefits include the free movement of goods and services and participation in transport, energy networks, and the digital arena. Nevertheless, the financial assistance is contingent upon recipient countries implementing reforms. This is essential to ensure uniform standards and rules in the internal market, making the region more enticing to global investors.

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