Merkel: Summit Has Shown EU’s Commitment To Balkans

27 Aug 15
Merkel: Summit Has Shown EU’s Commitment To Balkans

Austrian and German leaders hail Vienna summit as proof of the EU’s commitment to the region, announce support for infrastucture projects and pledge solidarity over refugee crisis.

Igor Jovanovic

Vienna summit.| Photo by Beta/AP

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Thursday in Vienna the Western Balkan summit had showed the EU’s goodwill to support the European perspective of the Western Balkan states.

Merkel said the recent agreements between Serbia and Kosovo reached with EU mediation gave hope for the entire region.

Just before the summit started, Serbia and Kosovo reached four key agreements in what the EU called a landmark achievement in their normalisation process, enabling both sides to advance on their European path.

Merkel also said that Western Balkans leaders had now changed their attitude and were increasingly able to meet each other without mediators, resulting in a concrete steps that also represented new hope for the region.

The Chancellor added that the agreed infrastructure projects in the Balkans will result in opening new jobs, curbing the major regional problem of unemployment.

Austrian Vice Chancellor Reinhold Mitterlehner said it was agreed that the EU will grant 600 million euros for regional infrastructural project over the next few years.

Among the projects mentioned at the meeting is the highway from Nis in Serbia to the Albanian coastal city of Dures through to the Kosovo capital of Pristina.

Reconstruction of the railway line between Serbian and Bosnian capitals, Belgrade and Sarajevo, would also be done with EU financial help.

Mitterlehner said that 24 different infrastructural projects were confirmed at the meeting in Vienna worth some 7 billion euros, Serbia’s Tanjug news agency reported.

If the projects are finished, it should stimulate GDP growth by 1 per cent in each Western Balkans country and create around 200,000 new jobs in total, the Austrian leader was quoted as saying.

The mass influx of Middle Eastern refugees passing through the Balkans on their way to the West was inevitably among the main topics of the summit.

On Thursday, news broke that at least 20 migrants had been found dead in a lorry in eastern Austira, which Merkel described as “awful”.

Merkel said the number of refugees was even bigger than after the World War Two and stressed that people whose life was endangered need to be protected.

“As EU countries we are ready to help the Western Balkan countries overcome the refugee crisis,” Merkel said, according to Belgrade-based Beta news agency.

The German Chancellor stressed that the issue of migration must be resolved “quickly and in a spirit of solidarity”.

Western Balkan officials urged the EU to form an action plan to help them deal with the refugee crisis as soon as possible.

“I believe that the EU should propose an action plan and then to invite us to join it,” Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic said.

Macedonian Foreign Minister Nikola Popovski also said urgent action was needed.

“Without a European response to the crisis .. no one should have illusions that this can be resolved,” Popovski concluded.

Some 102,000 migrants entered the EU via Macedonia, Serbia, Bosnia, Albania, Montenegro or Kosovo between January and July this year, versus just 8,000 for the same period in 2014, according to EU border agency, Frontex.

The summit in Vienna is a part of the Berlin Process, a five-year process started last August and marked by yearly summits in order to underline the EU’s commitment to enlargement.

The focus of the initiative is on the six Balkan countries that are not yet EU members: Albania, Bosnia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia.

It had been announced that the main topics of the summit would be infrastructure and connectivity, regional cooperation and youth.

Source: Balkan Insight (Montenegro)