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European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations (DG NEAR)
News article16 October 2023Directorate-General for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Negotiations3 min read

Opening remarks by President von der Leyen at the Berlin Process Summit

VDL Rama

Thank you very much, Prime Minister, dear Edi,

Herr Bundeskanzler,

Dear friends,

What a story we have just seen on the screen, what a story. And what a powerful message it is that it is not only the tenth Berlin Process but the very first time in a Western Balkan country. A powerful  message in a world that you described, Edi, where we are witnessing an atrocious war unleashed by Russia against Ukraine. Ukraine fighting for its sovereignty and territorial integrity and for our values. We have also seen a heinous terroristic attack of Hamas killing more than 1,400 people, men, women, children, babies, only because they are Jews. We are living on a burning planet. We are challenged by GenAI. In these times, you need best friends. And you said, you are the best of friends we can wish for. Let us work so that you join a European Union that has proven that it is possible to have, together, lasting peace and sustainable prosperity.

And indeed, what a powerful message yesterday, when we started the registration in Tirana College of Europe. And those young students will now study European affairs. They come from Albania, the whole Western Balkans, from the European Union. What a powerful message for the next generation that will be carrying the European Union idea forward.

The Berlin Process, as you said, started in 2014. And it is worth to look into the papers from that time: ‘The goal to make real progress in the reform process and regional economic cooperation.' That is why we are here. And we have laid a good foundation already with our EUR 30 billion Economic and Investment Plan. It is delivering. Half of the Plan, EUR 16 billion, are actually already deployed. But more needs to be done. And I want to focus a few minutes on that one.

Our economies, the Western Balkans and the European Single Market, are still too far apart. The Western Balkan economies are 35% of the EU average. So, we really have to tap into the potential that is here in the Western Balkans and get it closer to the European Single Market. And this is what the Growth Plan is all about. We know that, from the experience of enlargement, the power of enlargement of course lies in the values that unite us with the countries that joined the European Union step by step. But the second power is the economic development. Whenever there was an enlargement, not only those countries who accessed the European Union had a huge boost in their economic development because they joined the Single Market, but also the European Union improved because the Single Market got bigger.

And this is now the principle of the Growth Plan. We want to basically open in specific areas the doors of the Single Market, the European Single Market, to Western Balkan companies. And we have to engineer this now. We are opening it in areas like free movement of goods and services, road transport, energy, electricity, the EU's Digital Single Market, and, very importantly, making cashless payments easier with a single European payment area, just to name a few elements.

But of course, opening the door is not enough. The Western Balkan countries also need to complete their Common Regional Market. And this means that it is a condition that the Western Balkan countries also give access to their neighbours to their market [give their neighbours access to their market]. In other words, if I turn it around, if there are blockages, the only one you can block is yourself. The others will move on.

And to move on, reforms are needed, deep-rooted reforms, also to improve the business climate, to make the environment more attractive. These reforms will be accompanied by funding for investment from the European Union, if they take place. This Growth Plan is a very strong incentive. It is an incentive to open the doors economically, but also to ask for opening the borders between the Western Balkan countries and to do the necessary reforms. With that comes the funding for investment.

Only by working together will we bring the Western Balkans right where you belong, to the heart of the European Union. History, indeed, is on the move. My message is: This is a decisive moment now. Do not miss the opportunity, grab the opportunity, seize the moment and we work with you together for that.

Many thanks, Edi.