ec.europa.eu (Evropská komise)
Evropská unie  |  December 06, 2022 17:50:23, updated

Statement by President von der Leyen at the joint press conference with President Michel and Prime Minister Rama following the EU-Western Balkans Summit


Dear Edi,

It is a fantastic experience to be here, and you are outstanding hosts. We will, I think, never forget this family photo and this fantastic performance – tradition, classics and the future, the modern part. It was outstanding, it was amazing to see that. And thank you very much for your words. Let me reassure you that our support for the region really comes from the bottom of our hearts. Because we are deeply convinced that we belong together. You have said that you would, as host, be willing to give your life for us. We do not want your life; we want to live our lives together. And thank you very much for this outstanding Summit. It was a Summit where there was a very clear message of unity. We want to tackle the issues, the problems, the challenges we have together. It was a Summit of partnership with very deep, very good, frank and trustful discussion.

And of course, we have touched upon many topics. I want to highlight a few. A big topic is of course that we want to tackle together the difficulties, the knock-on effects of this atrocious war that Russia has unleashed. And one of the main topics is of course energy. For us is important that, with our friends from the Western Balkans, we address this energy crisis together to mirror whatever we do in the European Union also in the Western Balkans. For example, the fact that households and businesses struggle as much in the Western Balkans as in the European Union. For us is important to give similar solutions. Therefore, we announced this EUR-1-billion of energy support, which is split in two parts: It is EUR 500 million of direct budget support, which gives the opportunity to support in a targeted manner the vulnerable households and the vulnerable businesses.

And the second half, EUR 500 million, in infrastructure to make sure that we have the investment already in the energy of the future. The energy of the future is of course renewable energy. Renewable energy is cheaper; it is affordable; it is cleaner; it is better for our planet; and it is home-grown. It provides good jobs here at home, so it gives independence and security of supply. The investment of these EUR 500 million will of course go in renewables, in interconnections, so infrastructure, but also energy efficiency. Yesterday, we have approved six different projects. It goes from large-scale photovoltaic plants to solar district heating; from wind farms to the rehabilitation of hydropower plants, just to give you an idea about that. Of course, a strong emphasis is also on energy efficiency, so to improve, through additional investment, the situation of hospitals, schools and universities from an energy efficiency standpoint.

Beyond energy, of course this is a part, is the bigger frame of the Economic and Investment Plan – you are all familiar with it –, with investments in transport, in water, in wastewater management, in digital smart labs, just to name a few. Here too, we have just adopted yesterday 40 flagship projects worth EUR 1.8 billion. The good news is also that this Economic and Investment Plan is on track.

My second point looks at the situation that we have overall in the relationship between the Western Balkans and the European Union. And let me reassure you that we are wholeheartedly supporting the enlargement process and the regional integration. This year has seen a lot of progress. We have had indeed the first Intergovernmental Conference with Albania and North Macedonia. There is finally new movement and momentum in the whole process. It was a historic step to open the accession negotiations. And now, the screening has started and the momentum is there. We, as the Commission, recommend granting candidate status to Bosnia and Herzegovina on the understanding that a number of steps are taken. We are now very much looking forward to a decision to be taken by the Council.

Besides this progress that we see, there is of course the important topic of the economic integration, so the common regional market. I really want to commend you for the progress that you have done in the common regional market in the last months. It is very good for the region that you have signed agreements that underline the importance of the freedom to travel, to study or to work. It makes trade easier in the region, it creates new jobs. So all these are topics that are moving forward and that highlighted the importance of this Summit to give them speed and acceleration.

A third point that we discussed today was migration. Migration has long been a shared challenge. We have a strong, common interest in cooperating closely on all aspects. It is a question of managing migration together. Therefore, the Commission has yesterday presented an Action Plan on the Western Balkans to strengthen our mutual cooperation. On that, it is important for me to convey again the message: You can count on our support to deal with border management and to deal with the migration and asylum process. We are in this together and we have to manage that topic together. It is crucial for us to move forward here. At the same time, we expect all our Western Balkan partners to align swiftly with our visa policy. This is also crucial to maintain the visa-free regimes between us. Because it is a question of mutual respect of the rules.

And indeed, finally, I also want to emphasise the topics concerning youth. I know, Edi, how important youth is to you. You were the one who first mentioned to me that you wanted more opportunities for young people to be created in the region. And you were the one who asked us to think about the possibility to open the European Universities initiative to all Western Balkan countries. Today, we can say that we delivered. Thank you very much for starting this process. The Western Balkan universities will be able to join the European Universities network. This means that it enables students from the Western Balkans not only to study physically in the different universities of Europe but also to have full access to the European universities remotely here in Tirana. And in that is your vision to have one day the College of Europe here, like in Bruges, like in Poland. And indeed, you have full support also from my side. This is something on which I hope that in due time, at one of the next summits, we will be able to say that we delivered.

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