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To underline our commitment to the European future of the region, in our shared interest, the European Commission adopted a strategy for A credible enlargement perspective for and enhanced EU engagement with the Western Balkans in February 2018.
The Strategy includes six flagship initiatives - specific actions that the Commission will take over the next years to support the transformation efforts of the Western Balkans in areas of mutual interest. These range from strengthening the rule of law, reinforcing cooperation on security and migration and expanding the EU Energy Union to the Western Balkans, to lowering roaming charges and rolling out broadband in the region. The Strategy also underlines the need for the EU to be prepared to welcome new members once they have met the rigorous criteria for doing so.
A credible enlargement policy is a key component of the EU's Global Strategy for Foreign and Security Policy. It is not only a strategic investment in Europe's security and prosperity, but has already contributed greatly to peace in formerly war-torn areas. The EU's enlargement conditionality, as well as the focus on strong regional cooperation helps create a political environment conducive to bilateral issues being resolved or no longer being politically instrumentalised.
EU support for and cooperation with its partners in the region delivers concrete benefits today: fostering economic development to create jobs, opportunities to travel and to study abroad, improvement of governance and rule of law, strengthening good neighbourly relations, and regional cooperation.
Albania is continuing its efforts to consolidate achievements related to the five key priorities. These include continued implementation of justice reform and further progress in the vetting process which is monitored and supported by the EU.
Kosovo has started implementing its Stabilisation and Association Agreement which entered into force in 2016 and has also agreed the European Reform Agenda with key reform priorities.
Belgrade and Pristina have shown a great level of commitment to the EU facilitated Dialogue, which brought concrete achievements for the benefit of the people of Kosovo, Serbia and across the entire region. With facilitation by High Representative/ Vice-President, the Presidents of Kosovo and Serbia are currently engaged in talks on comprehensive normalisation of their relations.
There is strong EU political and financial support for cooperation in the region, which acts as a catalyst for reconciliation and good neighbourly relations. In addition to its strong political support for the Western Balkans and the Berlin Process, the EU is providing concrete financial support for seven regional co-operation organisations, including the Regional Cooperation Council, to boost economic development, improve connectivity, and enhance security and many other benefits across the region. The EU is supporting the Western Balkans initiative to establish a Regional Economic Area to make the region of some 18 million people more attractive to investors, creating new jobs and opportunities within the region.
The EU is supporting the establishment of a Regional Electricity Market and has signed a Transport Community Treaty with the region. Well-developed and connected transport and energy infrastructure is vital for regional cooperation, economic growth and attracting new investment. The EU pledged up to €1 billion for infrastructure in the Western Balkans and has set aside funds for related technical assistance. More than €500 million has already been committed to specific projects.
IPA: The Instrument for Pre-accession Assistance (IPA) is the means by which the EU supports reforms in the enlargement region with financial and technical help. IPA II aims at supporting the partners in the reforms they have to undertake throughout the accession process, resulting in progressive, positive developments in the region. IPA II builds on the results already achieved by dedicating nearly €4 billion among individual partners in the Western Balkans and an additional €3 billion in multi-country funds for the period 2014-2020.
EU pre-accession funds are a sound investment into the future of both the Western Balkans and the EU itself. They help the IPA beneficiaries complete political and economic reforms, preparing them for the rights and obligations that come with EU membership. Those reforms provide their citizens with better opportunities and will contribute raising standards closer to the ones enjoyed by EU citizens.
Strong economic relationship: The EU is the main trading partner for Western Balkans partners and accounts for more than two-thirds of foreign direct investment in the region. The volume of trade between the EU and the Western Balkans in 2016 totalled €43 billion.
Creating opportunities for youth and innovation: Direct participation in EU programmes such as Erasmus+, Horizon 2020, Creative Europe, and COSME helps the Western Balkans partners boost their development by creating opportunities for young people and researchers. In 2016, more than 5,000 students and staff from the Western Balkans took advantage of exchange opportunities provided by Erasmus+. Additionally, approximately 7,000 young people and youth workers participated in youth exchanges, another 50,000 persons were involved on the local level in different conferences, meetings or large-scale events organised through Erasmus+. The Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme will provide more than €125 million in EU funding between 2014 and 2020 to boost research and innovation in the region.
Regional and Global Security: Two Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) missions (EUFOR Althea and EULEX Kosovo) operate in the region; at the same time the partners in the Western Balkans are making steps towards becoming security providers, with 10 contingents operating in EU CSDP missions throughout the world.
Counterterrorism and countering violent extremism: Terrorism, violent extremism and radicalisation are common threats to the EU and to its Western Balkan partners and they require a common approach. We are working together in Europol, Eurojust, the Radicalization Awareness Network (RAN), and the Western Balkans Counterterrorism Initiative (WBCTi). With IPA financial support, under the over-arching framework of the Western Balkans Integrative Internal Security Governance, we are providing more than €31 million for counterterrorism and projects countering violent extremism in the region, in addition to funding related security and rule of law.
Migration: The EU has strongly supported and continues to support Western Balkan partners with more than €100 million through dedicated financial support and humanitarian aid, as well as delivery of expertise on the ground, ensuring smooth handling of migration flows and minimising space for threats to human rights.