Western
Balkans 6 summit : building networks, connecting people

Blog
Post by Johannes Hahn – 24 April 2015

It is always a pleasure to receive my counterparts
from South East Europe. But having the opportunity to welcome all six Prime
Ministers from the Western Balkans countries together in Brussels on the very
same day is a special treat indeed.

The Western Balkans Six (WB6) summit, which took place
on April 21 at the Commission’s headquarters, made this possible. The Prime
Ministers of Albania, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Kosovo,
Montenegro and Serbia and the Chairman of the Council of Ministers of Bosnia
and Herzegovina had followed my and Commissioner Violeta Bulc’s invitation to
discuss the central issue of connectivity.

Connectivity is at the very heart of the Commission’s
concept to reinforce the integration between the individual countries and with
the EU, thus driving forward their European perspective through concrete
projects. More specifically, it means focusing investments on establishing and
improving transport, energy and IKT infrastructure and networks, to strengthen
the countries’ backbone of competitiveness. And while doing that it also
contributes to building bridges in the region developing good neighbourly
relations and promotes peace and reconciliation.

The Brussels Summit was a major success. It confirmed
the agreement we had reached at the WB6 Ministerial in Pristina last month on
core transport networks. In addition, it adopted a joint statement identifying
the core networks to be realised as an extension of the TEN-T to Western
Balkans. The network corridors listed in the statement comprise road, railway,
inland waterways and port infrastructure. This is a major step forward: the
improved connectivity within the Western Balkans and with the EU is a key
factor for growth and jobs. It will bring clear benefits for citizens in the
applicant countries already before accession and open opportunities for EU
investors.

But the Western Balkan Six meetings are not only about
the economy and infrastructure. Building on the “Berlin process”
launched last year, they are an excellent format to bring political leaders of
our partner countries together at one table, creating the right atmosphere to
bridge different positions. The common work on joint areas like connectivity is
in itself a unifying factor. Thus, this summit was not only a success in terms
of creating concrete perspectives for the people of the region. It was, above
all, a day of connecting people and building bridges between positions in a
truly European spirit, to the benefit of all. And on this note, I was really
encouraged by the interactions between all the leaders of the Western Balkans
6. There was a genuine respect for each other and it was clear that they have
much more interest on working together for their common future, for the things
that unite them, rather than discussing the things that divided them in the
past.

By the way: I am writing these lines following another
Western Balkans meeting this week, the Foreign Ministers meeting in beautiful
Brdo/Slovenia, where we focused on enhancing political stability, sectoral
cooperation and not least boosting the chances of the region’s youth. I am
particularly grateful to our Slovenian hosts to emphasize the last point. The
young people of South Eastern Europe are tomorrow’s leaders who deserve a
better future. And what could be more inspiring than having this meeting in a
country which itself has undergone an impressive transformation to become a
successful member of the European Union, encouraging others to follow this
certainly not easy, but crucial strategic path.

Joint statement on core networks as agreed at the WB6
summit in Brussels on 21 April