From: Exit News
Western Balkans Urged to Benefit from €29 Billion in EU Funds during Berlin Summit

The 8th Berlin Process summit highlighted the EU’s commitment to its future enlargement into the Western Balkan (WB) countries, and the need for the region to cooperate in projects to attract the nearly 29 billion euros made available by the EU.

On Monday, the leaders of nine EU member states and six Western Balkans states held their annual Berlin Process summit in a video conference hosted by German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin.

In Merkel’s last summit before her departure from politics later this year, she stressed the need for WB countries to strengthen cooperation as they prepare to enter the EU. She noted the importance of developing a common regional market, which was established last year, as a major focus for the future of this platform.

Merkel also announced Germany’s decision to donate 3 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines to the Western Balkans.

The EU is the biggest investor, trading partner, and donor of the Western Balkans.

The President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, and Commissioner for Neighbourhood and Enlargement, Olivér Várhelyi, highlighted in more concrete terms the funds made available by the Commission for the region under the Economic and Investment Plan which was put forward last year alongside the Common Regional Market (CRM).

In 2021, the EC will propose an initial investment package of  €500 million for the region, for projects focusing on green and digital transition investments, smart mobility links, sustainable energy, digital infrastructure, and business sector development and human capital, including youth.

This is only a fraction of the €9 billion in grant funding planned to be mobilized under the Economic and Investment Plan over the next seven years, as well as €20 billion in loans, leveraged by the new Western Balkans Guarantee Facility.

To benefit from these funds, WB countries are required to develop strong cooperation ties and prioritize projects that would benefit the region as a whole.

Last year, the EU announced €3.3 billion in financial assistance for the region to cope with the pandemic and its aftermath. The EC will provide financial and technical assistance for the countries in the region to join the EU Digital COVID-19 Certificate in order to facilitate travel.

The leaders praised the removal of roaming tariffs in the Western Balkans from July 2021 – a first success of the CRM. The next step will be the gradual abolition of roaming charges between the WB and the EU.