Leaders from Western Balkans, EU, meet to discuss growth plan, reforms

  • World
  • Thursday, 16 May 2024

FILE PHOTO: European Union flags fly outside the European Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, March 1, 2023.REUTERS/Johanna Geron/File Photo

KOTOR, Montenegro (Reuters) - The six Western Balkan countries brought together by the European Union met in Montenegro's Adriatic resort of Kotor on Thursday to see how to speed up reforms, create their own single market and ultimately join the bloc.

Having been promised EU membership years ago, the accession process across the region comprising Albania, Bosnia, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia has slowed to a crawl, mainly because of reluctance among the EU's 27 members and a lack of reform throughout the region.

The EU wants to use a common growth plan worth 6 billion euros ($6.52 billion) to help the countries of the Western Balkans form a regional common market and join European common market in areas such as free movement of goods and services, transport and energy.

But they must implement reforms and resolve outstanding issues with their neighbours.

"Growth plan is no longer a draft, it is a reality we have started to implement," said Oliver Varhelyi, the European commissioner for enlargement.

One of incentives would be that countries from the region could access to the Single European Payment Area (SEPA), an EU payment initiative aimed at simplification of bank transfers in euros.

That would bring huge savings, said James O'Brien, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs.

"(This) will reduce costs by perhaps 7% every time someone sends money. This will reduce the cost of borrowing, which will allow businesses to expand," he said.

Serbia and Montenegro were the first in the region to launch EU membership talks, and Albania and North Macedonia began talks with Brussels in 2022. Bosnia and Kosovo lag far behind their neighbours in the process.

Montenegro, North Macedonia and Albania are also members of NATO.

($1 = 0.9200 euros)

(Reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic; Editing by Gerry Doyle)

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