The European Commission has dedicated 6 billion euros towards reinforcing and boosting investments in the Western Balkans. While the new Enlargement Package brings the countries a step closer to the EU, it is equally important to provide financial assistance in the framework of the New Growth Plan for the Western Balkans.
The proposal put forward in early November is built on several pillars:
First, it intends to improve integration of the Western Balkans Six markets, harmonizing it with the Single Market. This is one of the most crucial elements, since pre-accession harmonization will significantly improve competitiveness and protect the EU and new countries against economic shocks.
The second element consists of the integration of markets within the Western Balkans Six. The Common Regional Market serves as a mini-Schengen, where the region can coordinate the legal and infrastructural reforms for the free flow of capital, good, services and people. This will provide a seamless integration of Schengen and non-Schengen borders for the future, in order to prevent illegal migration flows, fight against organized crime and secure the EU’s external borders even further.
Third, accelerating institutional reforms for better flow of foreign direct investments, especially small and medium enterprises from the EU can strengthen the EU’s footing economically in the region. Policy wise it is important to coordinate accession negotiations together with financial investment, in various policy areas, from civil service and judicial reform, to restructuring law and enforcement as well as public services (healthcare, education and social services etc.).
The current financial package serves as a booster for the countries incentivizing them to adopt the acquis communautaire. Since the last decade the EU has shown decline in membership, it is crucial to involve the Western Balkans countries in the process, with access to full membership before 2030. The current security and European landscape necessitates new and improved mechanisms (e.g. offering semi-consolidated membership), and while the countries in general received a positive message from the Commission, one is yet to see a new member joining the club of EU members.