The EU-Western Balkans Summit, which took place yesterday and was hosted by the Slovenian Presidency of the Council of the EU at Brdo pri Kranju, brought together the leaders of the EU member states and the six Western Balkan partners: Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, the Republic of North Macedonia and Kosovo*
The summit was chaired by President of the European Council Charles Michel, who represented the EU together with President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen.
Today’s meeting was followed by a press conference, attended by Prime Minister Janez Janša, President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen and President of the European Council Charles Michel.
At the post-summit press conference, Mr Michel first thanked the Slovenian Presidency for organising the informal meeting of EU leaders, which was held a day before, and the EU-Western Balkans Summit, adding, “We had the opportunity to exchange views and clarifications on various political issues, such as the rule of law and the fight against corruption, where we need to hold open discussions to ensure that progress is made and that we all respect and follow the fundamental principles – this is key, this is a choice, this is what we want as EU member states.”
According to the President of the European Council, becoming part of the EU is also what the Western Balkans partners want, but for that to happen certain reforms, including the Green Deal and the Digital Agenda, are needed. “We provided a lot of money, an unprecedented amount of money, to encourage regional cooperation,” said the President of the European Council.
President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen also thanked Slovenia for hosting the summit and its outstanding organisation, saying that the message of the summit was clear: the Western Balkans are part of the same Europe as the EU. “We share the same history, the same values and the same destiny. The European Union is not complete without the Western Balkans,” said Ms von der Leyen, adding that the Commission will continue to do its utmost to advance the enlargement process and the region’s EU integration. “Our goal is enlargement,” emphasised the Commission President. She said that the Economic and Investment Plan was at the core of EU’s engagement with the Western Balkans. “The plan is accompanied by the Berlin Process and is crucial for the development and deeper integration of the common regional market,” said Ms von der Leyen, adding that the Western Balkan partners are undertaking important reforms and that there has been a lot of progress and many improvements, although the reforms have not yet been completed. During her visit to the Western Balkans last week, the President of the European Commission noted frustrations over the lengthy process for joining the EU, but said she herself had seen significant changes and that it was important to stay the course in key areas, such as the fight against corruption, economic reforms and media freedom.
Prime Minister Janez Janša began by thanking Charles Michel for organising the informal summit in Slovenia. “I think this was a very important event that shed some light on the situation in the region,” the Prime Minister said, and also thanked the President of the European Commission for her efforts to address specific issues that must be resolved before talks about enlargement can continue.
“We are happy to have hosted all the leaders of EU member states and the Western Balkan partners at this summit, especially since we were all facing facing the epidemic so recently,” the Prime Minister said, adding that the in-person meeting was a real relief because more issues can be resolved at such meetings than through videoconferences.
“Today’s informal summit between the European Council and the Western Balkans leaders is a milestone event as far as the EU perspective of the region as a whole is concerned, given the decision adopted in Thessaloniki in 2003, which guaranteed EU membership for the whole region once all the conditions were met,” continued Prime Minister Janša. “This was milestone event, not only because of what happened here today, but also because of the many processes that have taken place to date, which have made it possible for us to talk about enlargement as a strategic response to strategic challenges – I am thinking of the efforts made by Germany in the Berlin Process, by Slovenia and Croatia in the Brdo-Brijuni Process, by Western Balkan leaders within the region – where we are attempting to forge ties that facilitate the practical steps along the path to EU membership,” the Prime Minister said, adding that he was also referring to the efforts of the European Commission and the EU Commissioner for Neighbourhood and Enlargement, where it is clear that the EU is demonstrating, with concrete steps, that the Western Balkans region is reassuming the position it was given in the Thessaloniki declaration. “The decision in Thessaloniki was reached because it was a time when the tragic consequences of the 1990s, the horrors of war, could still be felt, and a unanimous decision was taken that the only lasting solution for the region, one which would lead to peace and stability, was membership in the EU. At the time, it was expected to happen more quickly; however, the decision was followed by several crises that both the EU and the region itself had to deal with, which led to delays,” said the Prime Minister. He added that the declaration from today’s summit contains “many positive messages for people living in the region, from an investment plan totalling €30 billion, to the promise of significantly reducing roaming charges between the EU and Western Balkans, as well as incentives relating to the necessary reforms”.
“It is no secret that Slovenia, when the declaration was being coordinated, sought to build a more fixed timeline into the declaration. Although it was not included, we did discuss the matter,” the Prime Minister said, adding that the vast majority of EU member states viewed the next decade as the period in which we will focus our efforts on realising the EU perspective of this region to the fullest extent possible.
“The EU perspective of the countries that are part of the European continent was, is and will be of extreme importance, and it is vital that we included enlargement in the declaration, that it was agreed upon unanimously, and that it will be a great incentive for the candidate countries in the Western Balkans to join the EU,” underlined Prime Minister Janez Janša.
According to the Prime Minister, the discussions held today and yesterday were fruitful, while a series of bilateral meetings were also held in the margins of the event to address concrete issues that need to be resolved in order for the processes to move forward. “It is clear from this discussion that if we want the EU perspective of the Western Balkans to become a reality for current generations, something that gives hope and encouragement to the reform processes, then three processes need to take place in parallel. The EU needs to make changes within its institutions to ensure its effectiveness in an enlarged EU, and, at the same time, the negotiation process needs to go hand in hand with the process of resolving outstanding issues, such as those between North Macedonia and Bulgaria and between Serbia and Kosovo. But it is having a negotiating framework that enables and helps resolve tactical issues,” said the Prime Minister, adding that within the negotiating framework, which is embedded in the broader framework of enlargement, discussions are more focused and take place differently than simply moving from one issue to the next. “There are hundreds of issues that still need addressing in the region, and if we don’t establish a wide enough framework, then we will be faced with new issues every week and a great deal of effort will be spent just attempting to resolve something for a short time before the issue arises again. We therefore need these three processes to run in parallel over the next decade,” the Prime Minister stressed. He also said that if the European perspective of the Western Balkans is not secured in a reasonable amount of time, history could repeat itself in a way that no one wants. “I hope that this will act as motivation to ensure that the necessary steps are taken more rapidly and decisively than they have been in the past decade,” said the Prime Minister.
Prime Minister Janez Janša and the President of the European Commission and President of the European Council were available for further questions from journalists.
*This designation is without prejudice to positions on status, and is in line with UNSCR 1244/1999 and the ICJ Opinion on the Kosovo Declaration of Independence.