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Helping hand for Western Balkans - 05/03/2008

View of town in Bosnia Herzegovina

Support to help Western Balkans prepare for EU membership.

As the Western Balkans – including Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, and Serbia – move closer to membership, the commission is stepping up its support to help them prepare, through, for example:

  • more scholarships to encourage students to study in the EU
  • increased contact between scientists and researchers
  • greater cooperation on environmental protection, justice, freedom and security.

Visa-free travel is also up for discussion.

“Within the EU there is an unwavering will to support the people of the Western Balkans to opt for European values and living standards,” said enlargement commissioner Olli Rehn. He added that it was the leaders and people of the region who would finally decide whether they moved towards a European future marked by stability and prosperity.

Some €800m a year goes to the Western Balkans to prepare for EU membership - more per head than anywhere else in the world – and this will continue until 2011.  A greater proportion of these funds will now go to ‘civil society’ activity - trade unions, consumer organisations, women’s and youth associations. A conference highlighting the role of civil society in the region is planned for 17-18 April.

Cooperation between the Western Balkan countries on trade, energy and transport has long been supported by the EU, but new initiatives are also on the table this week, including cross-border responses in the event of disasters such as the forest fires of 2007.

EU enlargement strategy and progress reports
Benefits of 2004 EU expansion

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