Tirana, 10 June 2021
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Thank you very much Prime Minister. Thank you very much for having me today on this wonderful day in Tirana.
I am particularly happy to see that maybe this is the begining of the end of the COVID-19 crisis and we can start to get back to do business personally and to have such important meetings of the leaders of the Western Balkans - physically present - and to be able to bring forward our common agenda in the Western Balkans.
Because this meeting has been about a common agenda for the Western Balkans, an agenda that is not only being created by the European Union. It is also being created by the Western Balkans’ leaders themselves and this is why this meeting is so important.
We see a clear commitment and engagement from their side, which we have seen already taking shape last year when they have agreed to establish a common regional market. Today we were able to look back and see the progress we are making. We are not yet there, but we have to get there - by July when we have the next Berlin Process summit coming up.
We see already the first deliverable arriving, changing the lives of the citizens by the launching the free roaming zone, the ‘Roam like at home’ - we have it in the European Union - for the entire Western Balkan region.
That is a first and we still have a lot to come: citizens travelling with ID cards, mutual acceptance of diplomas, work permits removed, facilitating e-commerce. There is a lot this Western Balkans cooperation has to offer, this regional market can offer for the people of the Western Balkans.
We are ready to put our offer on the table. We confirm our commitment that we have put on the table in October with the Economic and Investment Plan. The Economic and Investment Plan, which is mobilising one third of the GDP of the region - almost €30 billion of investments to come.
But that Plan will never work, if the region does not work as one. If we do not have a regional market, there is no point in building highways, where the trucks will have to stop every hundred kilometres at the borders. There is no point in building railways, if the trade is slowed down by obstacles. There is no sense in creating new trade routes, if you need to have at least 6 different types of certifications of goods and having to pay taxes on goods. So, this economic plan will only deliver, if the region also delivers a regional market - that is the environment in which this Economic and Investment Plan can work.
For my part, the additional news that I brought here today is that we have an agreement in the European Union on the financing of this plan. We have come to an agreement last week with the Council and the European Parliament on the IPA III, as it is called, so the Instrument for Pre-accession Assistance, which will be the financing tool for this plan. So, on our side we are ready to start the implementation and now we need our Western Balkan partners to come with implementation as fast as they can.
As you see, we are entering a month of June which is a critical month for the Western Balkans. We have many issues on our table in the European Union. We want to have Intergovernmental Conferences with Serbia and Montenegro to continue their accession negotiations. We want to have the first Intergovernmental Conferences with Albania and North Macedonia. And we have this summit to deliver for the people on the ground.
This month and this year could be the year of the Western Balkans, but we all need to deliver. And this is the message I want to bring everywhere, not only here, also in our Member States.