The EU has agreed new measures to improve co-operation in security and connectivity with its Western Balkans partners.
The announcement followed a summit on EU-Western Balkans relations in Sofia, Bulgaria yesterday, which was attended by European leaders and sought to reinforce the strong ties between the bloc and its partners in the region. The new measures include a series of concrete actions which aim to improve co-operation in security, connectivity and the rule of law.
Commitment to reinforcing these areas is underpinned by a series of related and necessary reforms, including respect for human rights and the rights of minorities, fighting against corruption and organised crime, and commitment to good governance. These reforms will be vital to the ambition of many countries in the Western Balkans region to align with and ascend to the EU.
What has been agreed?
The result of the meeting was the Sofia Declaration, which acknowledges the shared security challenges faced by the EU and its Western Balkans partners, and identifies key priorities on which more collaboration is needed, including blocking terrorist financing, preventing radicalisation, and targeting organised crime, in particular illicit firearms and drugs trafficking, and the smuggling of irregular migrants.
The new package of measures will also improve co-operation in security and connectivity via funding through the Western Balkans Investment Framework. For example, the EU has made available grants worth €190m for 11 innovative transport projects, which is expected to leverage up to €1bn in private investment and loans from financial institutions.
A further €30m has been offered for investment in the wider implementation of broadband internet technology across the region, with the aim of improving connectivity throughout the Western Balkans and align it with the EU’s larger goal of providing high-quality, low-cost wireless internet to all citizens.
What were the commission’s views on the meeting?
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker welcomed the positive outcomes of the summit, and suggested that the collaboration between the EU and its partners in the Western Balkans reinforces the values that underpin the bloc.
He said: “This summit has allowed us to forge even closer links with our friends from the Western Balkans who, step by step, each day come a little bit closer to the European Union – each at its own pace and merits. Being anchored in the European Union means sharing values and principles, including respect for the rule of law, independence of the judiciary and freedom of expression – because the European Union is first of all a community of values and law.”