EU- Western Balkans summit
The EU – Western Balkans summit will take at the National Palace of Culture in Sofia, Bulgaria, on 17 May. It will bring together heads of state or government of EU member states with the Western Balkans partners: Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Kosovo.
The meeting will be hosted by Boyko Borissov, Prime Minister of Bulgaria, which currently holds the Presidency of the Council. It will by chaired by the President of the European Council, Donald Tusk who, together with the President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker, will represent the European Union. The President of the European Parliament, Antonio Tajani, the EU High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy / Vice-President of the Commission, Federica Mogherini, and the Commissioner for European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations Johannes Hahn will also attend the summit.
The Western Balkans partners will be represented by Edi Rama, Duško Marković, Aleksandar Vučić, Hashim Thaçi, Bakir Izetbegović as well as Zoran Zaev.
Representatives of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the World Bank, the European investment Bank and the Regional Cooperation Council will also participate.
The summit should first and foremost reaffirm the European perspective of the whole region. It will be centred on the theme of connectivity with a view to improving the links between the EU and the Western Balkans as well as within the region itself. The summit will also aim to boost cooperation in areas of mutual security concerns, including terrorism, organised crime and illegal migration.
The leaders of the European Union are expected to adopt a declaration with which the Western Balkans partners have aligned themselves.
On the eve of the summit the EU leaders will meet for an informal dinner to discuss innovation and digital. It will also be an occasion to discuss the latest developments in regard to the Iran nuclear deal and trade with the US.
The summit will be an opportunity for the leaders to reaffirm its unequivocal support for the European perspective for the region. It will equally be an occasion for the Western Balkans partners to recommit themselves to this perspective as their firm strategic choice and the transformational reform process that comes with it.
The enlargement and stabilisation and association process will not be discussed during the summit. Instead, it will be assessed in line with established practice. The General Affairs Council is expected to adopt conclusions on enlargement in June.
By increasing connections between the EU and the Western Balkans, as well as within the region itself, the summit will aim to bring people and economies closer together. This should also increase political stability, economic prosperity, cultural and social development in the region and beyond. At the summit, leaders are expected to call for substantially increased connectivity in all its dimensions: transport, energy, digital, economic and human. A special emphasis will be put on creating further opportunities for youth, including a doubling of Erasmus+ funding for the region.
The EU already accounts for 73% of all trade with the region and 73% of all foreign direct investment in the region. The Sofia Priority Agenda, to be adopted as an annex to the Sofia Declaration, will further outline new initiatives to increase the socio-economic development and increased connectivity through investments in areas such as energy grids and interconnectors, transport infrastructure, roaming and broadband.
The EU and the Western Balkans partners share many security challenges, including countering terrorism, radicalisation and the return of foreign fighters. The recent collaboration in stemming illegal migration flows has clearly demonstrated the value of increased cooperation and the leaders are expected to call for it to be further developed. Particular emphasis is expected to be put on the need for Western Balkans partners to fight corruption and organised crime, including efforts to fight human trafficking, drug cultivation and the smuggling of human beings, drugs and arms. Other areas likely to be addressed by the leaders are pressure from external actors, cyber security, disinformation and strategic communication. The Western Balkans partners contribution and alignment to the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy is also likely to be discussed.
In the margins of the meeting
On the eve of the summit President Tusk has invited the EU leaders to an informal dinner. This dinner is part of the Leader’s Agenda and it will focus on innovation and digital. The EU heads of state or government are also expected to use this occasion to exchange views on the Iran nuclear deal and trade with the US. The dinner taking place at the John Atanassov Centre in Sofia Tech Park will be hosted by the Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov.
The Bulgarian Presidency of the Council has also scheduled several side events around the summit. They will provide an opportunity to showcase the breadth of EU-Western Balkans relations beyond intergovernmental aspects.
On 16 May, the European Council on Foreign Relations and the Wilfried Martens Centre for European Studies are organising the conference ‘In dialogue with the Western Balkans: creating a region of growth, security and connectivity on the path to Europe’.
Also on 16 May, the Bulgarian Forum for Business Leaders is organising the event ‘Investment prospective: Western Balkans’. It will focus on the economic potential of the Western Balkans as well as investment horizons in the region.
On 17 May, the World Economic Forum is co-hosting a strategic dialogue on the Western Balkans together with the Bulgarian presidency. The objective will be to advance private public partnerships to support investment in the region.
On 18 May, the Vienna Economic Forum will host the ‘Sofia Talks 2018’ focusing on regional economic cooperation.
On the same day, an event on the circular economy and clean technologies will be organised by the Bulgarian Ministry of Environment and Waters and Cleantech Bulgaria.
In the margins of the summit, the Western Balkans partners are also expected to sign a statement of intent on a Digital Agenda for the Western Balkans. It is also expected that a number of bilateral connectivity projects will be signed as well.