The further path of the Western Balkans towards European integration and stronger collaboration between the countries of the region was the key themes of the new regional summit held in Berlin on Monday as part of the ‘Berlin Process’, the initiative that the German Chancellor Angela Merkel launched in 2014, to encourage the Balkan region to bring the EU closer.
The 7th annual Summit, which took place via videoconference on Monday, was chaired by Merkel, who in recent days held separate meetings online with the leaders of the region. Among the key themes of the summit is the creation of a common regional market in the Western Balkans, which inspired the initiative called 'little Schengen' that Serbia, Albania, and North Macedonia launched two years ago.
Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Kosovo, North Macedonia, and Serbia from the Western Balkans joined 9 EU member states - Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, France, Greece, Germany, Poland, Slovenia, and Italy - to discuss the region’s state of affairs and its future with a focus on EU accession.
As this was the last summit under her leadership as she is leaving office this autumn, Chancellor Merkel, who initiated the process in 2014, said that the Western Balkans is the direct neighbor of the EU. “It is part of Europe where the wounds of war have not yet healed since the launch of the 'Berlin Process'," she said.
Merkel stressed that the project had already achieved some successes and had been a practical contribution to peace. She mentioned among the achievements the mutual recognition of diplomas, cooperation in science, and progress in infrastructure projects which have contributed to what was characterized by steps leading to stronger cross border exchanges among citizens and overcoming prejudices.
Merkel pointed out that there are still challenges in the region and mistrust and nationalism have not disappeared and bilateral disputes can flare up at any moment so reconciliation is needed.
Merkel insisted that she sees the six WB countries as future members of the EU for strategic reasons. “It is in the interest of the EU itself to take forward this process,” she said, adding that stronger regional cooperation has achieved the first success mentioning the roaming accord which has entered into force.
Merkel also announced that Germany will donate three million doses of anti-Covid vaccines to the WB countries as soon as possible. / argumentum.al