Thank you very much Mr President, dear Aleksandar, for hosting me again here in Belgrade. We had a very good conversation.
Basically, the first message is: Enlargement is at the top of the agenda of the European Union. It is a time of global turbulences, so we must strengthen the unity and the security of our continent. And enlargement is the way to do it. We want Serbia to join our Union. The offer is based on trust, reciprocity and partnership. It is a promise of peace and prosperity. And it is a unique opportunity that no one else can match. I very much hope, and I am convinced, that you will seize this moment. Serbia is already one of the most advanced countries on the EU path, due to the good progress made in the past. We want you to take the next steps to get closer to us, including in foreign policy. Because we want to count on Serbia as a reliable European partner, standing up for our common principles and values.
My second message is on the economy: Indeed, Mr President, dear Aleksandar, you described that the Serbian economy is doing well. It is now at 44% of the EU average income per capita. That is good. But we want more. And we want to get closer. This is very important for us. To get closer, we already have our EUR 30 billion Investment Plan for the Western Balkans. It is delivering fast. For example, with the Kostolac Wind Farm and the Serbia-Bulgaria gas interconnector, which I indeed had the chance to visit.
Last year, as you described, we went through a severe energy crisis. But working together, helping to cushion the impact of high energy prices on households and businesses – as you just described –, enabled us to overcome this severe crisis together. And this is the best principle of all: If you are in testing times, work together, we can overcome difficulties together.
This is looking back. What I want is to look forward on the new Growth Plan to getting our economies closer to each other. This new Growth Plan for the Western Balkans has four steps.
The first step is: We open our Single Market to the companies and businesses of the Western Balkan countries.
The second element is: In return, the Western Balkan countries open their markets to their neighbours, so as to really create the Common Regional Market of the Western Balkans. The potential of this Common Regional Market of the Western Balkans is enormous. If completed, it could increase the GDP of the Western Balkan economies by 10%.
The third element is: If we open the Single Market of the European Union and we complete the Common Regional Market of the Western Balkans, we need a level playing field. And for that, reforms have to be done.
And here comes the fourth element: If you do the reforms, we come with investment. For Serbia, for example, this would be: improving the business environment, making the energy sector ready – we are working on it – for the green transition, the focus on education and on training people for the jobs of tomorrow. Just to name of few topics where there can be reforms and investment together. In addition, reforms for judicial independence are essential. On media freedom, you just finalised important reforms. Congratulations on that one. Now you need to implement it and keep on working on this sector. So this is the package of reforms plus the investment.
This new Growth Plan includes EUR 6 billion for investment in the Western Balkan economies. We made a very good experience in the European Union if we combined investment and reforms. We did that after the pandemic with our investment plan, NextGenerationEU. And it worked very well to have the investments accompanied by reforms. So if it works for the Member States, I think it will also work for us together. This Growth Plan will boost your economy. It will, most importantly, create good jobs. And, of course, it will also support you on your path to accession. I believe this is the right offer at the right time.
My last message is: We need normalisation between Serbia and Kosovo. The violent attack of 24 September in North Kosovo is completely unacceptable. The perpetrators must be held accountable and brought to justice. This is absolutely crucial for both to engage and to go the path of normalisation. In this respect, it is important that Serbia endorses the statute of the Association Community. Kosovo has to implement this statute. In addition, it is essential that Serbia begins the implementation of the existing agreements and does not lose time on this.
Going forward with that, the right place to discuss all these issues is the EU-facilitated Dialogue. This is the only way forward. It is a good way to access the Growth Plan but, more importantly, it is the best way towards a future in which Serbia is part of the European Union.
- Publication date
- 31 October 2023
- Directorate-General for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Negotiations