Brussels, 12 July 2017. The 2017 Western Balkans Summit took place today in Trieste, Italy.
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Heads of Government, Foreign Ministers, Ministers of Economy and Ministers of Transport of the Western Balkans together with their counterparts from several EU Member States and high-level EU representatives discussed key areas of regional cooperation, and set out concrete measures to better connect the region's infrastructures, economies and people.
Following the Summit High Representative/Vice-President Federica Mogherini said: "At this important summit hosted by Italy we first of all confirmed the perspective of the European Union integration of the Western Balkans. All the 6 partners in the Western Balkans clearly want to be more integrated in the EU, determined to have a future in our Union for all of them; once the right reforms are passed, we will be very consistent from our side. Secondly, many new practical projects were confirmed and a Transport Community Treaty was signed, opening new connections. So, practical steps and European perspective, a very successful summit." The remarks by Federica Mogherini following the Summit are available here.
Johannes Hahn, Commissioner for European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations participated in many events including the signing ceremony of the “letter of intent” for new assistance under the Western Balkans Enterprise Development & Innovation, the Business Forum, the Civil Society Forum, the Youth Forum and the meeting with the Ministers of Foreign Affairs. The speeches by Commissioner Hahn at the Business Forum and the Youth Forum are both available online.
Violeta Bulc, Commissioner for Transport met with the Ministers of Energy and Ministers of Transport focussing in particular on the finalisation of the Transport Community Treaty and on road safety. At the signature of the Transport Community Treaty also Federica Mogherini and Johannes Hahn were present.
Today's meeting was part of the "Berlin process", an initiative for stronger regional cooperation in the Western Balkans. The participants included EU Member States Austria, Croatia, France, Germany, Italy, and Slovenia and the United Kingdom. All participants also expressed great satisfaction with the prospect of further high level events in the region itself.
Today the EU Presidency and the European Commission co-signed, on behalf of the Union, the Transport Community Treaty with 5 Western Balkan partners. The Summit called on Bosnia and Herzegovina to sign as soon as possible.
This important achievement will pave the way for infrastructure improvements as well as better quality transport services throughout the region. The Transport Community Treaty will help put into action reforms affecting people's everyday lives, for instance in the field of road safety. By providing more stability, it will also attract new investors in the region and add to its economic growth. Finally, this Treaty will help the Western Balkan countries align their national transport laws with those of the EU, thereby strengthening neighbourly relations, promoting cross-border cooperation and ultimately bringing these countries closer to the European Union. More information is available in a factsheet and on a map indicating infrastructure investments projects.
The European Commission announced a substantial connectivity package, totalling €194 million EU in grants, and leveraging investments of €500 million, for seven new regional projects to improve transport and energy links within the Western Balkans and with the EU. Included in the package are four projects submitted by Bosnia and Herzegovina which will proceed as soon as outstanding issues related to fiscal space are resolved and Bosnia and Herzegovina signs the Transport Community Treaty.
The Western Balkans leaders agreed on an action plan to develop a Regional Economic Area to consolidate a market of some 20 million people, and so attract investment and generate growth and jobs. Objectives to be reached over the next years also include development of digital markets, smart growth, mobility of skilled workers and mutual recognition of professional qualifications in the region. The Commission will support the implementation of this initiative with a package of €7 million for the improvement of the investment climate, smart specialisation strategies and the Western Balkans Chamber Investment Forum. The Forum, which gathers local chambers of commerce, inaugurated its permanent secretariat, which will help put the Regional Economic Area into concrete opportunities for companies across the region.
On support for the private sector, the European Commission announced €48 million of additional EU funding for the Western Balkans Enterprise Development and Innovation Facility (EDIF), which is expected to leverage some €250 million for the companies in the region.
The EU-Western Balkans Youth Forum, with participation of Commissioner Hahn, brought together more than 100 young leaders and representatives of youth organisations from the Western Balkans and the EU to debate mobility, inclusion, entrepreneurship and youth participation. The conclusions of the Forum were presented at the Summit itself, and will also serve as a basis for the Regional Youth Cooperation Office (RYCO) to develop its work programme. During the Summit, political leaders from the region reconfirmed their commitment to an exchange scheme for young civil servants from the Western Balkans, which was launched at last year's summit in Paris and has delivered very positive results.