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European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations
News article29 April 2022Directorate-General for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Negotiations

EU-Western Balkans 6 Business Platform Meeting, 28 April 2022 in Brussels

EU-Western Balkans 6 Business Platform Meeting

Common Regional Market  - A catalyst for deeper regional economic integration and a stepping stone towards EU Single Market

Economic fragmentation and access to finance are just some of the issues facing businesses in the Western Balkans, and to the fore in discussions at a high level business forum.

Organised jointly by the European Commission and the Western Balkans Six Chamber Investment Forum (WB6 CIF), the first physical meeting of “WB6-EU Business Platform” brought together representatives from the EU, regional organisations and the business community of the region to discuss untapped opportunities and challenges facing the region’s private sector.

In a welcome address, Michela Matuella, Acting Director for Western Balkans in the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Neighbourhood and Enlargement, underscored how the impact of the war in Ukraine, coupled with the existing challenge of economic relaunch post-pandemic, is placing an additional burden on the economies of the region.

She reassured the Commission is committed to advancing the accession process with the Western Balkans, including for Albania and North Macedonia with the aim of starting formal accession negotiations as soon as possible.

Ms Matuella also highlighted the importance of business engagement with the EU’s Economic and Investment Plan for the Western Balkans to help alleviate some of the short-term pressures and improve resilience over the longer-term.

“The complex economic climate shows that regional cooperation and solidarity are more important than ever. The EU’s Economic and Investment Plan will bring a host of opportunities for people and businesses in the Western Balkans, both through direct support to the private sector as well as in speeding up integration of the region.

Deeper regional economic cooperation through the Common Regional Market is at the heart of the Plan. We can already see benefits through the ‘Green Lanes’ initiative and regional roaming agreement. Further implementation of the Common Regional Market  serves as a stepping stone to closer integration with the EU’s single market, and we call on you to continue this good cooperation to maximise opportunities and enhance business links.”

Mr Vjekoslav Vukovic, President of the Chambers of Commerce in Bosnia and Herzegovina, chaired the meeting on behalf of the WB6 CIF, and spoke on the need to focus on economics and make sure politics does not form an obstacle to closer economic cooperation in the region.  He underlined that the overall goal is ‘one region, one economy’.

WB6 CIF gave a brief analysis of key findings on challenges faced by business in the region - including waiting times at border crossings, intra-regional trade barriers, legislative harmonisation, insufficient labour force offer, no progress on mutual recognition programs and obstacles to cross-border movement of capital and payments - and voiced concern that in the current political context, and due to the increase in energy prices and inflation, the Western Balkan economies are on the brink of a new crisis.

Business representatives present at the event detailed further concerns including those related to unfair competition and low wages; the need for digital development and re/upskilling; double taxation and certification; and rule of law and corruption issues. One expressed the need to train the mindset and skillset for business to survive and realise they are part of the bigger European family. 

North Macedonia chambers felt the answer to eliminating many issues was to accelerate the enlargement process.

Interventions by CEFTA secretariat, the Regional Cooperation Council, Transport Community and Eurochambers confirmed their continued strong support for the Western Balkans, and openness to deeper collaboration and participation, including greater WB participation in EU technical Working Group meetings. Eurochambers felt a timetable for EU accession would be useful.

DG TRADE informed that 2021 figures showed WBs trade with the EU had increased overall, which is good news.

DG NEAR gave particular thanks to the businesses present, whose stories were inspiring and it shows their chosen direction is the right one. The Western Balkans are a key strategic partner and business should continue working with their national governments to ensure tangible results are delivered.

Overall there was broad thanks extended to WB6 CIF and the Commission for organising the event and appreciation for the open, transparent discussion.

Background

The Economic and Investment Plan for the Western Balkans aims to spur the long-term economic recovery of the region, accelerate a green and digital transition, foster regional cooperation and convergence with the EU. It consists of €9 billion in EU funding, including €1 billion in guarantees to help reduce the cost of financing for public and private investments and risk for investors. This is expected to mobilised an additional €20 billion of investment over the next years.  

The Common Regional Market, adopted by the Western Balkans Leaders in 2020 and supported by the EU, is essential to tap into the growth potential of the WB economies through stronger regional economic integration. It is also a stepping-stone to integrate the region more closely with the EU Single Market already before accession and is key for the region to leverage its privileged relationship with the EU.

Western Balkans 6 Chamber Investment Forum (WB6 CIF) is a joint initiative of chambers of commerce and industry from the region (Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, North Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia), established with the aim to provide a joint voice to the business community, to facilitate inter-business contacts and promote the region as one investment destination.

WB6 CIF represents around 350,000 companies (mostly SMEs) in its mission to open new opportunities for stronger networking of business communities within the region by removing the obstacles to the development of regional economic cooperation, improving business and investment climate.

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