EU leaders reaffirm commitment to integrating Western Balkans

Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama (left) welcomes Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic at the EU-Western Balkans Summit in Tirana, Albania, on Dec 6, 2022. (GENT ONUZI / XINHUA)

TIRANA – The leaders of the European Union (EU) reaffirmed their full commitment to the EU membership perspective of the Western Balkan (WB) countries on the sidelines of the EU-Western Balkans Summit held here on Tuesday.

The summit – the first held outside the EU — was attended by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, European Council President Charles Michel, High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell, European Commissioner for Neighborhood and Enlargement Oliver Varhelyi, as well as heads of state or government of the EU member states and WB partners.

The European Union leaders called for the acceleration of the Western Balkan countries' EU accession process based upon credible reforms by partners, fair and rigorous conditionality, and the principle of own merits

The EU leaders called for the acceleration of the WB countries' EU accession process based upon credible reforms by partners, fair and rigorous conditionality, and the principle of own merits.

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"The EU is more committed than ever to a common future, with our WB partners inside the EU. And we are taking every opportunity to bring our regions and our people closer together. From addressing jointly the energy crisis to opening more opportunities for citizens and business alike," said von der Leyen.

She said that the EU will allocate €1 billion (around $1.05 billion) to the WB countries in grants for energy and infrastructure.

The energy support package includes €500 million in immediate support for all WB partners to cushion the increase in energy prices for businesses and vulnerable households. The package will be ready for disbursement in early 2023.

Another package worth €500 million includes short and medium-term support via the Western Balkans Investment Framework to advance the energy transition and energy security.

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On Tuesday, EU leaders also witnessed the signing of a declaration by representatives of telecommunications companies from the EU and the WB countries on the first voluntary lowering of roaming charges between the region and the EU starting in Oct 2023.

The participants also discussed migration management, cybersecurity, education and youth policies.

Near the summit venue, hundreds of Albania's opposition party supporters staged a protest on Tuesday. Protestors accused the current government of corruption and links to organized crime, driving mass emigration and vote-buying.