The Western Balkans could be Europe’s new energy gateway: a region from which Europe can get energy more reliably through other routes and suppliers, the European Commissioner for Neighborhood and Enlargement told journalists, after attending Monday’s meeting of the European Affairs Committee of the Hungarian Parliament.
Olivér Várhelyi said that a Western Balkans EU summit will be held in Tirana, Albania on Tuesday, also attended by Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. He said that the signing of an agreement by representatives of mobile operators to abolish roaming charges between the region and the European Union from next summer will be a tangible result of the meeting.
Europe will not be able to move forward in the global race without the full integration of the Western Balkans, nor will it be able to defend its own regional geopolitical interests,
he said. This process can only be credible if real economic and social integration is accelerated and the related tasks are carried out much more quickly and intensively, he added. Várhelyi recalled that the Commission has put a major economic development program on the table, equivalent to one third of the GDP of the entire Balkan region.
Among the tasks necessary for the integration of the Western Balkans, he highlighted the development of trade routes, roads and railways in the region, and of the IT structure. There is also a need to prevent the emigration of young people, with four million of the region’s 18 million people having left.
The EU Commissioner pointed out that the enlargement process could only be accelerated if the major challenges facing the Western Balkans and Europe at the same time, be it the energy crisis or migration, were tackled jointly. On energy, he pointed out that an additional investment of €2.5 billion had recently been proposed in the Western Balkans to create a completely new energy system and network.
On migration, he stressed that the number of illegal immigrants on the Western Balkan route is constantly increasing. It is clear that the Balkans cannot cope with this situation alone, and without European assistance, the region could be destabilized by this process, he said, adding that resources to fight illegal immigration had been significantly increased.
Speaking at the committee meeting, Várhelyi said that
Europe’s long-term peace and security can no longer be imagined without enlargement, and the fact that three countries immediately applied for membership in the wake of the war was a wake-up call for all.
He added that everyone wants stability, and Europe can strengthen it through enlargement. We are interdependent in the region, even when it comes to security and energy, the EU official said, adding that it is clear that it is in Europe’s interest to have a stable and secure region.
Featured photo via the European Council; Pexels