In follow-up to the Paris Western Balkans Summit of 4 July 2016 we, the six Prime Ministers of Western Balkans, met yesterday to reaffirm our commitments, take stock of progress and set out preparations for the next summit hosted by Italy in Trieste on 12 July 2017. The meeting was attended by representatives of Italy, the European Commission and the European External Action Service.
The 2016 Paris Summit provided an important road map to further strengthen regional cooperation, increase coherence and deepen integration driven by a clear EU accession perspective.
We remain fully committed to our EU accession perspective, which is where our common free and prosperous future lies. We welcome that the European Council reaffirmed its unequivocal support for the European perspective of the Western Balkans and stressed that the EU remains committed to the region and engaged at all levels, to support stability and to deepen political and economic ties with and within the region. This firm and credible perspective thus continues to drive our transformation and modernisation through political and economic reforms. The principle of “fundamentals first” continues to be at the core of our efforts in relation to the rule of law including security, fundamental rights, democratic institutions and public administration reform. We are focussed as well on economic development and competitiveness, to stimulate entrepreneurship in the region, and to accelerate inward investment, to increase growth and the prospects of job creation. We have continued to make progress on our respective EU integration paths and will spare no effort in continuing this.
As we individually progress towards our European perspective, we recognise the necessity to bundle our strengths as a region. We are working together to create new opportunities for the region, building on its potential to promote its success. We stand by our solemn commitment to further support each other on our respective European paths rather than obstruct it. Therefore, we are concerned about growing nationalist polarisation and we pledge to resolve our political differences within the framework of our democratic institutions, and by strengthening mutual political dialogue.
Sincere devotion to the process of reconciliation is essential for the stability of our region. At this moment in particular, we reaffirm our strong commitment to resolve pending bilateral issues as soon as possible and will step up our efforts in accordance with the spirit of the 2015 Vienna Summit declaration and the Vienna conference in April 2016 to improve on the limited track record in this respect.
Further Western Balkans Economic Cooperation: Discussing a common market
In order to boost our growth potential, job creation and economic convergence with the EU, we need to pursue rule-based regional economic integration. To ensure success, we also need to facilitate innovation, stimulate business actively, and encourage investment, also at the level of small and medium size enterprises (SMEs).
We propose that our representatives together with the Regional Cooperation Council and supported by the European Commission, start working on a proposal for a joint approach to furthering economic cooperation in the Western Balkans through different initiatives in order to present them at the Trieste Summit, which could include for example on circulation of goods, services and capital, free flow of skilled workforce, a common digital approach and a dynamic investment space.
Small and medium size enterprises are the backbone of our economies and we look forward to the initiatives at the Trieste Summit to promote their development and better access to financing, including via the ‘Western Balkans Enterprise Development and Innovation Facility’.
Fight against terrorism and radicalisation
Terrorism and radicalisation continues to pose a threat in and to our region. We welcome the integrated security governance concept for the Western Balkans as adopted by the EU Justice and Home Affairs Council in December 2016. Returning foreign fighters and risk of radicalised ‘parallel’ communities pose a potential security threat that we are addressing through strengthened law enforcement, anti-terrorism strategies and action plans that increasingly focus on prevention and anti-radicalisation. We recognise that more needs to be done in this area and will engage in close cooperation with the EU, including the extension of its Anti-Radicalisation Network to our region and deepening our cooperation with Europol on counter-terrorism.
We are strongly committed to increase efforts to prevent and counter corruption in all its forms. We will continue our work to establish credible policy frameworks for preventing and tackling corruption, creating specific institutions and making substantial efforts to foster specialization in this field. We will reinforce our cooperation and look forward to the impetus that the Trieste Summit will provide in this respect.
Looking ahead, we underline the need to continue the engagement of all the actors within the ‘Berlin process’. We count on the support of the European Union to accompany our efforts to continue progressing firmly towards becoming full members of the European Union.