Berlin Plus: EU signals Western Balkans still a priority

Taking the lead in the Western Balkans: Sigmar Gabriel. [SPD Schleswig-Holstein/Flickr]

Sigmar Gabriel hopes his new Berlin Plus plan will receive a warm welcome. Intended to dispel fears in the Western Balkans that the Union is preoccupied with domestic crises, Belgrade worries that Berlin Plus is an excuse to leave Serbia in the “EU waiting room”. EURACTIV.rs reports.

The German foreign minister’s agenda is an extension of the Berlin Process, which involves six EU member states and six Western Balkan countries. The initiative was launched in August 2014 as a top-level forum for Western Balkan governments, chambers of commerce and civil society.

The regional “six” which the agenda pertains to consists of EU candidate countries Serbia, Montenegro, Albania and Macedonia, and potential candidates Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo.

Gabriel unveiled the new plan on 31 May in Berlin, at a conference with his Western Balkans colleagues, organised by the Aspen Institute, as an additional incentive to the Berlin Process for the purpose of turning the region into an attractive economic space.

EU pushes Western Balkans toward common market

The European Union yesterday (16 March) encouraged the Western Balkan countries to create a common market, which it estimated could create over 80,000 jobs in an area of high unemployment.

The Berlin Plus agenda envisages additional efforts and funding for accelerating the Western Balkans’ progress towards the EU.

A new meeting within the Berlin Process will be held on 12 July in Trieste, where the region’s leaders and EU senior officials will gather to affirm the Western Balkans’ European prospects.

Berlin Plus or Berlin Squared?

The European Institute in Nice’s Balkans Project Director, Tobias Flessenkemper, who took part in the conference in Berlin at which the Berlin Plus plan was presented, told EURACTIV Serbia that such initiatives were welcome, but it was questionable how much could change in a short time.

“Although Berlin Plus is good, the present moment calls more for a ‘Berlin Squared’ for the results to be faster and bigger. In the summer of 2014 the governments envisaged ‘four years until real progress’ and those four years will expire in 15 months,” said Flessenkemper.

The conference in Berlin was held in light of events in the Western Balkan countries that were assessed as a threat to regional stability.

Hungary warns about growing foreign influence in the Balkans

The growing influence of Moscow and Ankara in the Western Balkan region is raising concern among the leaders of European centre-right political parties, who have called for a revival of EU aspirations in the region. EURACTIV.com reports from Malta.

The Berlin Plus plan also proposes the founding of an infrastructure and technology fund, for which the members of the EU, European Free Trade Association and the European Economic Area could be donors.

The plan is also for German instruments of cooperation and development to be better directed to the needs of the region, including the establishment of special funds for startups, professional training and the development of IT infrastructure.

“We need a ‘new filling’ of the Berlin Process. The process must bring visible advancement to the local population. That is why we should prioritize the idea of making the region an attractive economic space,” Gabriel said at the meeting.

Belgrade’s lukewarm reaction

The only one to have reacted to the announcement of Germany’s Berlin Plus plan so far is Serbia’s Acting Prime Mminister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Ivica Dačić.

He said that the German plan for the Western Balkans, Berlin Plus, must not become a political excuse for the EU to “leave Serbia in its waiting room”.

Steinmeier: No new conditions for Serbia accession

On Tuesday (28 April), German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier reassured Serbia that there would be no new conditions for the candidate country’s progress toward EU membership. EURACTIV Serbia reports.

Dačić told the 6 June issue of Novosti that announcements from Berlin should be welcomed, but added that the plan “must not become our new mirage”.

“Without clear prospects, but also concrete economic benefits, it will be difficult for the countries of the region to stay on the European path and maintain stability. The accession process is complex and long-lasting, and largely conditioned with politics, but it is clear to all that without a stable Balkans there is no stable and safe Europe,” Dačić said.

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