- Wednesday, May 16, 2018 7:22 PM
Sofia, 16 May 2018 (MIA) - Opening a conference on dialogue with the Western Balkans here on Wednesday, Prime Minister Boyko Borissov said the coming of EU leaders to Sofia for the EU-Western Balkans Summit on May 17 and the presentation of the region's problems to them is a success, but in the end everything depends on the Western Balkans themselves. "God helps those who help themselves in the Balkans," he said, BTA reports.
The conference, which focused on growth, security and connectivity in the Western Balkans, was organized by the European Council on Foreign Relations and the Wilfried Martens Centre for European Studies. The participants included Foreign Minister Ekaterina Zaharieva, Bulgarian EU Council Presidency Minister Liliyana Pavlova, MEP Eva Maydell, former Bulgarian president Rosen Plevneliev, Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic, Macedonian Foreign Minister Nikola Dimitrov, European People's Party (EPP) Group Chairman Manfred Weber and former Slovak prime minister Mikulas Dzurinda.
Borissov went on to say that what everyone within the Council has full understanding on are the main railway corridors, motorways, digital infrastructure and ports in the region. He used a scheme of infrastructure projects to illustrate which ones have already been constructed with EU funding. "The leaders of the World Bank, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the European Investment Bank are here now so that they can leave this place with a clear idea of what will be funded and how. The toll systems being introduced in all these countries guarantee that they will be able to pay off their low interest loans to be given by these banks, as well as the grants extended by the European Commission. With little co-funding from these countries' budget, I am convinced that the Balkans will become one of the best places to live in Europe," the Bulgarian PM argued.
Taking questions, Borissov said that the issue with Brexit is beginning to enter a stalemate and is not developing in the desired faster way. He expressed the hope that the name dispute between Macedonia and Greece will finally be solved, and noted that the presidents of Serbia and Kosovo, Aleksandar Vucic and Hashim Thaci, should demonstrate their European leadership.
Borissov also expressed regret that a large part of the EU leaders' attention will be focused on EU-US trade relations and the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action with Iran.
Foreign Minister Zaharieva said that the Western Balkan countries should prove they are capable of implementing reforms and resolving bilateral disputes. "The first thing we should do is show that we can live in the present, leave the past behind and work together," said Zaharieva.
The Bulgarian Foreign Minister said that any concerns about the future EU enlargement come from uncertainty whether bilateral issues will be carried over within the European Union and used when solving common problems.
Zaharieva said that the net donors in the EU are opposed to a quick EU enlargement but any indefinite postponement will discourage and anger citizens of the Western Balkan countries.
EPP Group leader Weber said that today Sofia was the capital of Europe. He noted the contribution of Bulgarian Prime Minister Borissov and of the Bulgarian government to putting the Western Balkans on the agenda of Brussels. "Europe needs the Western Balkans and the Western Balkans need Europe but there is resistance within the EU. I want to convince people that there is a path to Europe for the Western Balkans," he said.
Weber went on the say that the European Union is not ready yet to accept another six members.
Macedonian Foreign Minister Dimitrov said that the accession process is the best tool in the hands of the EU to help those who want to change and reform. Dimitrov said that his country has learned a lot in the past years, noting that accession negotiations do not mean just ticking off chapters but using the process to change. The Macedonian Foreign Minister said that his country is changing, and that the only way to progress is to face reality. He said that progress must be achieved which should be irreversible, that it is impossible to consolidate the EU without achieving progress.
Former Slovak prime minister Dzurinda said that the process of the integration of the Western Balkans has a new boost. Dzurinda said that it would be wonderful if the EU is bigger in 2025, especially given that the UK is leaving it. The politician said that the enlargement depends on the ability of the applicant countries to meet all criteria and on their determination to become part of the solution and not part of the problem.
Croatian Prime Minister Plenkovic stressed the importance of returning the Western Balkans to the EU agenda. In his words, a lot of work needs to be done because Europe changes daily. He referred to the rise of populist and anti-European parties, noting that the stronger such formations, the less likely the EU's enlargement. "My message is that we should take advantage of the moment, of the enthusiasm and initiative on the part of Prime Minister Boyko Borissov," Plenkovic said.
MEP Eva Maydell stressed the key importance of the civil society in assisting and monitoring the process of reforms in the Western Balkans. Maydell also noted the importance of the EU speaking with these societies, as only in this way will it be possible to make the citizens of the Western Balkans allies in the process of Europeanization of the region, which she said is a common cause. ik/19:20
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