The heart of Western Balkans is beating today in Trieste. The city of Northeastern Italy holds the Summit that Brussels officials claim that “it will be an opportunity to discuss concrete avenues to strengthen regional cooperation and thus further advance the EU integration process of the Western Balkans”.
Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/Vice-President of the Commission, Johannes Hahn Commissioner for European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations, and Violeta Bulc, Commissioner for Transport, will participate together with Heads of Government, Foreign Ministers, Ministers of Economy and Ministers of Transport of the Western Balkans and their counterparts from 6 EU Member States (Austria, Croatia, France, Germany, Italy, and Slovenia).
“In Trieste for western Balkans summit, covering countries that want to join EU rather the one wants to leave”, commented on twitter a British journalist.
Discussions will focus on three key areas of regional cooperation: Connectivity, Regional economic integration/private sector development and People-to-people contacts.
In the area of connectivity, the focus will be on the implementation of the Connectivity Agenda, which aims at creating conditions for economic growth and good neighborly relations, in particular through the preparation and financing of concrete regional infrastructure investment projects in the transport and energy sectors. During the Summit, the European Commission will announce substantial new funding as part of its annual ‘connectivity package’. Moreover, the Western Balkans partners are expected to sign the Transport Community Treaty, which will help integrate the transport networks in the region and with the EU and guide related reform measures in the transport sector.
On the second issue, the regional economic integration, the Western Balkan partners are expected to agree on an action plan to develop a Regional Economic Area aimed at boosting the attractiveness of the region to encourage investment and generate jobs, especially through smart growth, start-ups and scale-ups.
For the first time within the Berlin process, a digital dimension is part of the action plan: this will contribute to integrating the region into the pan-European digital market. The Chamber Investment Forum of the Western Balkans, which gathers chambers of commerce of the region, will inaugurate its Permanent Secretariat in Trieste at the margin of the Summit: the involvement of the business community will contribute to translating the Regional Economic Area into concrete opportunities for companies in the region.
On private sector development, the Commission will step up its substantial existing support to SMEs through a new contribution to the Western Balkans Enterprise Development and Innovation Facility, as well as pushing for more dynamic inward investment.
Llast but not least, regarding people-to-people contacts, the European Commission together with the Italian Government is organizing an EU-Western Balkans Youth forum in the margins of the Summit to take stock of the results achieved since last year and explore further areas of cooperation.