The EU has close links with the Western Balkans partners, aiming to secure stable, prosperous and well-functioning democratic societies on a steady path towards the EU. The cooperation between the EU and the Western Balkans aims at effective political and economic governance, the highest standards of adherence to the rule of law, promoting media freedom and a vibrant civil society. Reforms are key for the European path, but even more importantly, they are crucial for improving how the countries deliver for their citizens and directly benefit them.
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The EU and the Western Balkans towards a common future
The EU is fully committed to the EU integration of the Western Balkans. This is a shared strategic objective that unites the whole region and the EU. Accession talks are underway with Montenegro and Serbia. In March 2020, the Council agreed to open accession negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania. Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo are potential candidates for EU membership.
All Western Balkans partners have Stabilisation and Association Agreements with the EU, opening up trade and aligning the region with EU standards. The Stabilisation and Association Agreements provide the overall framework for the relations of the EU with the Western Balkans. We cooperate closely to address shared security challenges. The EU also provides political and financial support for the countries of the region to foster good neighbourly relations and build shared prosperity through regional integration. In addition to its strong political support for the Western Balkans and the Berlin Process, the EU supports regional co-operation organisations, to boost economic development, improve connectivity, and enhance security and many other benefits across the region.
The prospect of EU membership is an incentive to bring forward reforms in the Western Balkans. Reforms are key for the European path, but more importantly, they are crucial to improve political and economic governance, rule of law, media freedom and conditions for civil society. This is in the shared interest of the citizens of the Western Balkans and of the EU.
Common Foreign and Security Policy / Common Security and Defence Policy in the Western Balkans
Cooperation in the area of Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP)/Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) is a priority for the European Union and its Western Balkans partners.
The EU’s Western Balkans Strategy, adopted by the European Commission in 2018, outlines as objectives to expand and deepen CFSP/CSDP dialogues, increase Western Balkans contributions to EU missions and operations, and further develop cooperation on hybrid threats, intelligence, space issues and defence and security sector reform.
Cooperation between the EU and Western Balkans within CFSP/CSDP has significantly evolved in the past years. Whilst the EU remains engaged with CSDP missions and operations in the region, Western Balkan partners are themselves also contributing to CSDP missions and operations around the world.
EU support in fighting COVID-19
Side by side with the Western Balkans to fight the pandemic
The EU has mobilised unprecedented support to the Western Balkan partners, and remains committed to supporting the region through the pandemic and beyond.
The EU assistance covers more than €3.3 billion in support to the region’s medical emergency response, long-term socio-economic recovery, and vaccines. The EU provided protective equipment, Intensive Care Unit (ICU) beds, ventilators, COVID tests, ambulances, freezers/refrigerators, and other crucial items throughout the pandemic.
Through the Economic and Investment Plan, the EU also supports the socio-economic recovery of the Western Balkans, and a connected, green, and people-focused growth, benefiting the region and Europe as a whole. The EU’s substantial investment in the health sector in previous years also proved to be crucial during the pandemic.
Countering disinformation and building societal resilience
Disinformation, information manipulation and interference are forms of hybrid threats manifesting across the world. The threat is expanding, and a growing number of actors are using an increasing number of tactics. This is a global challenge also affecting the Western Balkans.
Dealing with this challenge requires a whole-of-government and a whole-of-society approach, which the EU is supporting across the region.
Strengthening partnerships with international and local organizations – on both government and non-government sides – helps build resilience of local populations to disinformation, and increases the capacity of the Western Balkans partners to handle these threats. This work remains crucial for strengthening democracy, for example in relation to protecting the integrity of elections, access to information, and media freedom.
Dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina
The European Union facilitates the Dialogue on the comprehensive normalisation of relations between Kosovo and Serbia.
The EU-facilitated Dialogue aims to achieve a comprehensive legally-binding normalisation agreement between Kosovo and Serbia addressing outstanding issues in order for both Parties to progress on their respective European path, create new opportunities and improve the lives of their citizens. An agreement between the Parties is beneficial also to the security, stability and prosperity of the entire region.