EU-Western Balkans summit in Sofia

Juncker Sofia.jog

Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the EC at the EU-Western Balkans Summit in Sofia. © European Union , 2018 / Source: EC – Audiovisual Service /

This article is brought to you in association with the European Commission.

Main results

The EU-Western Balkans summit took place in Sofia, Bulgaria, on 17 May. It brought together:

  • heads of state or government from EU member states
  • leaders from the 6 Western Balkans partners: Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Kosovo*

“Today we reaffirmed our mutual commitment to the European perspective for the whole region. As I said during my recent visit to the region, the European Union is and will remain the most reliable partner of the entire Western Balkans. And in very concrete terms we discussed how to improve connections with and within the Western Balkans region.”

Remarks by President Donald Tusk after the EU-Western Balkans summit

EU leaders agreed on the Sofia declaration, with which the Western Balkans partners have aligned themselves. They also adopted the Sofia priority agenda, as an annex to the declaration, outlining new measures for enhanced cooperation with the region.

European perspective

At the summit EU leaders reaffirmed their unequivocal support for the European perspective of the Western Balkans. The EU is determined to strengthen its support to the region’s political, economic, and social transformation.

“I don’t see any other future for the Western Balkans than the EU. There is no other alternative, there is no plan B. The Western Balkans are an integral part of Europe and they belong to our community.”

Remarks by President Donald Tusk after the EU-Western Balkans summit

Western Balkans partners recommitted themselves to this perspective as their firm strategic choice. They also reaffirmed their commitment to European values and principles, and to the vision of a strong, stable, and united Europe.

The EU also stressed the importance of good neighbourly relations, regional stability, and mutual cooperation. This includes in particular finding solutions to bilateral disputes and dedicating additional efforts to reconciliation.

Connectivity

The summit focused on the theme of connectivity with a view to improve the links with the Western Balkans and within the region itself. Increasing connections should support political stability, economic prosperity, cultural and social development in the region and beyond.

The EU pledged to further enhance connectivity in all its dimensions, including:

  • transport links
  • energy security
  • digital economy
  • business climate
  • opportunities for youth

The Sofia priority agenda, annexed to the summit Declaration, outlines new concrete initiatives to boost connectivity. For instance, funding for the Erasmus+ programme will be doubled to allow more youth to study in the EU.

Security cooperation

Summit participants also discussed common security challenges. “When we work together, we are able to address these challenges effectively”, said EU leaders.

They called for further developing cooperation to stem illegal migration flows. EU leaders also agreed to increase cooperation to counter terrorism and extremism, including financing, radicalisation and the return of foreign fighters.

Participants agreed that fighting corruption and organised crime is essential for the region’s transformation, as well as for regional stability and security. They also agreed to work more closely together to curb disinformation and hybrid threats.

The next EU-Western Balkans summit will take place during the Croatian presidency of the Council in 2020.

Further information on the summit is also available on the Commission’s website:

Side events

On 16 May, on the eve of the summit, President Tusk invited EU leaders to an informal dinner. This dinner was part of the Leader’s Agenda and focused on digital Europe, research, and innovation.

“We agreed that the EU will step up its efforts on digital and innovation in order to rise to the challenge of technological revolution. You should expect very concrete decisions when we formally meet in June.”

Remarks by President Donald Tusk after the EU-Western Balkans summit

EU leaders also exchanged views on the Iran nuclear deal. They agreed unanimously that the EU will stay in the agreement as long as Iran remains fully committed to it.

Heads of state or government also discussed trade with the US:

“We have achieved a united approach that will strengthen the Commission in its ongoing negotiations with the United States. The EU is even ready to talk about trade liberalisation with our American friends but only if the US decides an unlimited exemption from steel and aluminium tariffs.”

Remarks by President Donald Tusk after the EU-Western Balkans summit

A Leader’s Agenda note was issued ahead of the dinner outlining the key issues that will be discussed.

The Bulgarian Presidency of the Council also organised several side events around the summit. They provided 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 organised 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 organised the event ‘Investment prospective: Western Balkans’. It focused on economic potential of the Western Balkans as well as investment horizons in the region.

On 17 May, the World Economic Forum is co-hosted a strategic dialogue on the Western Balkans together with the Bulgarian presidency. The objective was 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 was organised by the Bulgarian Ministry of Environment and Waters and Cleantech Bulgaria.

In addition, the European External Action Service (EEAS) launched the EU-Western Balkans cultural heritage route. Several initiatives and events were organised to promote the rich cultural heritage of the Western Balkans, as part of the European year of cultural heritage.

https://tvnewsroom.consilium.europa.eu/bmm_video_embed/embed_video/109081
Highlights of the participation of President Tusk in the Brdo-Brijuni Process Leaders’ Meeting, 27 April 2018

President Tusk’s visit the region ahead of the summit

From 24 to 27 April President Tusk travelled to Tirana, Podgorica, Belgrade, Pristina, Sarajevo and Skopje. He met with the leaders of each Western Balkans partner to prepare for the upcoming summit and to discuss bilateral relations with the EU. At the end of his tour in the region, President Tusk participated in the Brdo-Brijuni process summit in Skopje.

“This week I have been travelling through the entire region. I came to the Western Balkans with a clear message from the leaders of all European Union Member States: we remain steadfast in our offer of a European perspective to the region. You can count on us.”

President Donald Tusk at the press conference of the Brdo-Brijuni summit, 27 April 2018

Infographic – Connecting the EU and the Western Balkans

The EU is building strong links with the Western Balkans regions through transport investments, financial support for reforms, the Erasmus+ programme, trade exchanges, and solidarity in times of crises. See full infographic

Infographic – EU and Western Balkans intertwined

EU and Western Balkans economies are interlinked. The EU is the number one trade partner, investor, and donor in the region. See full infographic

Background information

In March 2017, EU leaders reaffirmed their unequivocal support for the European perspective for the Western Balkans:

“The European Council […] reaffirmed its unequivocal support for the European perspective of the Western Balkans. Welcoming the progress made by the countries of the region, the European Council stresses that the EU remains committed and engaged at all levels to support them in conducting EU-oriented reforms and projects.”

Conclusions by the President of the European Council, 9 March 2017

On 6 February 2018, the European Commission adopted a strategy for the Western Balkans. It outlines the European perspective for the region, reforms that need to be implemented, and the EU’s increased support to back the process of change in the Western Balkans. The Commission also announced six EU initiatives to support that process in the region in areas of mutual interest.

On 8 March 2018, EU home affairs ministers discussed cooperation with the Western Balkans in the area of internal security and counter-terrorism, on the basis of the new strategy presented by the Commission. The outcome of this discussion will feed into the preparations of the summit.

“Security in the Western Balkans has a direct impact on security in the EU. We are committed to better cooperation with the region to counter threats from organised crime and terrorism, and so improve the security of EU citizens.”

Valentin Radev, minister for interior of Bulgaria

The enlargement and stabilisation and association process will not be discussed during the summit. Instead, it will be assessed in line with established practice. This involves the General Affairs Council taking stock of the enlargement process every year. This year the European Commission will release its regular progress reports on 17 April and the General Affairs Council is expected to adopt conclusions in June.

The EU-Western Balkans summit takes place as part of the Leaders’ Agenda. This a concrete work programme guiding the EU’s action until June 2019. To find out more on the Leaders’ Agenda, go to the following page:

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