London, 28 February 2022
Dear President - Dear Odile,
Dear Prime Ministers,
Good morning everyone.
Today is not a particularly happy day: we see some kind of a déjà vu, a déjà vu my country has experienced already in 1956. I do hope it will not end the same way it did in 1956. On our part we are doing the outmost not to let it end that way.
And today, when we are here with our Western Balkans partners, we also conclude – together with our Western Balkans partners I hope – that never before has been the stability and the security of the Western Balkans so important than it is today. We are here today to not only maintain this stability and peace that we see in the Western Balkans, but to strengthen it and to deepen it and to expand it.
It shows very well the value of the stability and the peace we have in the Western Balkans – and the European perspective that Ukrainian President, being in the situation close to or already impossible, is reaching out for the membership of his country in the European Union. This is how important this is, seen also in Ukraine, and this is why it is so important to continue building the European perspective for the Western Balkans. And this is what we will do today.
As you know, I am a huge fan of the Western Balkans, to put it simply. I am also an instigator for the European cause of the Western Balkans. For me, today’s event comes at the best possible time, because finally after COVID-19 pandemic we get to see each other here at the EBRD, to bring the work further.
The EBRD is our key partner in Western Balkans, be it for past or future investments. It is among founding member of the Western Balkans Investment Framework (WBIF), the EU-led investment framework since 2009. The EBRD portfolio within WBIF is currently around €8.3 billion. It is channelled through 69 projects, major ones, more than one third of the WBIF projects pipeline, covering all areas: digital, energy, environment, transport and support to micro, small and medium enterprises.
The EBRD will remain a crucial partner in the future, in particular in the implementation of the Economic of Investment Plan for the Western Balkans. We launched this Plan in October 2020 to support the post-pandemic socio-economic recovery – our recovery plan for the region - and to speed up the closing of the development gap with the EU, speed up the social and economic convergence. The Plan and its 10 flagship initiatives will speed up this process, and we hope that this also reconfirms the reality of the European perspective for the Western Balkans.
Over the next years, we are ready to mobilise up to €30 billion of investments – one third of the current GDP of the entire region. We expect that this contribution alone could raise the GDP byat least 3.6%. We will help our Western Balkan partners to cope with future systemic shocks, build faster and more sustainable connections, decarbonise the economies, ensure a safe energy supply and enlarging it for growing economy, create sustainable business opportunities and put conditions in place that make the young generation stay in the region. These are the challenges we identified together with the region.
We are also seeking to strengthen regional cooperation through the Common Regional Market, facilitating the movement of persons, goods, services and capital tol maximise the benefits of our investments. Our investment plan is a regional one, without regional cooperation it will not create the 3.6% GDP growth for all of you. We need full regional cooperation on all the four freedoms we have in the EU single market.
The implementation of the Plan is already under way. Last week we launched the first major package of investments, the most important step in turning the Plan into reality.
Through the WBIF, in partnership with the EBRD and other financial partners, Member States and Norway, we are with this package investing in 21 projects in the field of sustainable transport, environment and climate, clean energy, digital and human development. Their total investment value amounts to €3.2 billion, with €1.1 billion in grants coming from the EU budget.
With this first package, we support the construction of major road and railway connections, including the rail corridor between Skopje and the Bulgarian border. We help the energy sector in transition from coal with solar power plants and the Trans-Balkan Electricity Transmission Corridor. And we finance wastewater treatment plants to help safeguard people’s health.
The EBRD is leading 10 out of these 21 projects. And this is just the beginning. Work has already started on the second package, where we hope to receive applications for more strategic and mature projects, including gas projects providing alternative to gas supply from Russia. And we are in the process of deploying a new guarantee facility in the Western Balkans to scale up the investments by crowding additional public and private capital.
We see the EBRD as an essential partner for this new guarantee, especially for investments in the energy and digital sectors, but also in supporting the competitiveness of the SME sector and its market integration with the EU.
With a substantial investment package approved and the right partners on board, it is now time to accelerate implementation. I count on all the Prime Ministers of the Western Balkans, because they need to ensure quick action so the projects from the Plan come to life swiftly. Together, we can and we will change the reality on the ground, for the people of the Western Balkans.
At the same time, we continue to work together to advance the enlargement process. Europe does not end in Zagreb or Budapest, the Western Balkans naturally belong here too. It is more important now than ever to work on that as fast as we can, as deep as we can. To see the region advance on its EU path better and faster, we have put a revised methodology in place, making the process more credible, more predictable, more dynamic and giving it a stronger political steer. We have seen some positive developments coming from this already – last year with the progress made with the countries already negotiating, but it is now time to work for those who should have already started the negotiating at the first intergovernmental conference. This is what we are working on now.
We live in unprecedented times – be it the war in Europe, be it COVID-19 pandemic, and there could be other challenges coming up. But I am convinced that as long as we work together, and work relentlessly on security and stability in and around Europe, we can contribute to the long-term peace on the continent. And this is why, no matter how small it might look, it is important to deliver on our joint projects and deliver the prospect of peace and stability for the people of the Western Balkans.
Thank you very much!