8.9.2014, SETimes, EU, region to work together towards accession

Leaders from Macedonia, Serbia, Montenegro, Kosovo, Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) attended the August 28th meeting, where participants agreed to form a joint strategy for enhanced regional political and economic co-operation.

"All states in the western Balkans should have the opportunity to join the European Union if they fulfill the accession requirements," German Chancellor Angela Merkel said at the conference.

"Germany sees this region as part of the EU and will work on the European idea of integration," Germany Ambassador to BiH Christian Hellbach said.

According to Former Macedonian Ambassador to NATO Nano Ružin, "the idea of the summit was to send a message that the Balkans belongs to Europe, and not to some other region." This message, he told SETimes, was in part aimed at the interest of Russia in the Balkans.

Jelena Milic, director of the Belgrade-based Center for Euro-Atlantic Studies, agreed.

"Messages from the summit are encouraging for the region. And, yes, this is a way of creating a distance to Serbia from Russia," she told SETimes.

Over the next three years, the EU hopes to solve three key problems that plague the region: the name dispute between Macedonia and Greece, the problem between Belgrade and Pristina and the internal organisation of BiH.

Bojan Maricic, executive director of the Macedonian Center for European Training, said that this is the first summit since the Union conference in Thessaloniki in 2003 that has focused on the major issues in the region and set an agenda for action.

"This is something we have long waited to do because there was no long-term plan for the western Balkans. I see this conference as one of hope and a positive signal for the EU's policy towards the Balkans," Maricic told SETimes.

The document that was adopted at the conference paves the way for projects that target the regions' approach to the EU. Infrastructure projects, energy projects, and tourism projects will transform the region into an economic region, which it currently is not, Glevin Dervishi, media and communication adviser of the minister of Foreign Affairs of Albania, told SETimes.

Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic said the European leaders and his colleagues from the Balkan states submitted a five-part plan that proposes the political and economic empowerment of the region. The plans include establishing a joint Customs Union and forming a Youth Union for the western Balkans.

"The heads of government from the region came to the conclusion that it is widely important for all of us to preserve the overall political and economic stability of the region. Our most important task is to preserve peace and stability and to co-operate with each other," Vucic said after the summit.

The economy of the region will dynamically follows good policical relations.

"The potential for economic growth in southeastern Europe is huge and unused, but the strategy of econoical connectivity is lacking," Damir Novotny, an economic analyst from Croatia, told SETimes.

Macedonian Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski said that the EU has a genuine desire to help the region.
"There is a clear intention in Germany and the European Commission to influence more and be involved in facilitating the resolution of the various problems faced by the countries of the region," Gruevski said.

"As long as we work together, united in the region, we can achieve a lot," BiH Foreign Affairs Minister Zlatko Lagumdzija said.

Correspondents Erl Murati in Tirana and Ivana Jovanovik in Belgrade contributed to this report.

What can the EU do to help the region achieve economic and political stability? Tell us your thoughts in the comments section.