Statement by President von der Leyen at the joint press conference with Albanian Prime Minister Rama and German Chancellor Scholz

© European Union, 2021© European Union, 2021

Thank you, dear Edi, for the wonderful hospitality and your leadership at this Summit,

Thank you, Olaf, for the excellent cooperation in the preparation, but also during this Summit.

We are here in Tirana, working on bringing the Western Balkans and the European Union closer. But at the same time, the eyes of the world are now on Israel and Palestine, and our minds, too. There can be no justification for Hamas’ heinous acts of terror. For the brutal slaughter of 1,400 people in Israel. In the face of this horror, Israel has the right to defend itself, in line with humanitarian and international law. Right now, Palestinians in Gaza are in need of humanitarian help and aid. They cannot pay the price of Hamas’ barbarism. This is why the Commission has announced that we will triple humanitarian aid for civilians in Gaza to EUR 75 million. We are launching an EU Humanitarian Air Bridge to Gaza through Egypt. The first two flights will start this week. They will bring humanitarian goods to Gaza. And we will keep working with our partners in the region to assess and address the needs on the ground.

Turning now to our work here today. Last year, I said that with Albania at the helm, the Berlin Process would be in good hands. And I was right. So, thank you very much, Edi and Olaf, for the very good exchanges and for a very successful Summit.

But a lot remains to be done. We need to bring our economies even closer, and we need to speed up the reforms for accession. This is why I presented to the leaders our Growth Plan. If implemented, the new Growth Plan has the potential to double the size of the Western Balkan economies still in this decade.

It has four pillars. The first pillar of the Plan is bringing the Western Balkans into the Single Market. We basically open the door of the Single Market in seven key areas for the Western Balkan companies, already now. Just to give you a few examples on customs cooperation, e-commerce, cashless payments, road transport, electricity, roaming – just to name a few.

The second pillar is that the Western Balkans themselves have to complete their Common Regional Market. If they complete their Common Regional Market, this could increase the GDP of the Western Balkans by 10%. So, the Western Balkans also need to open their own markets to their five neighbours and partners.

The third pillar is reforms. If we want to give access to the Western Balkans to the European Single Market, of course, there needs to be a level playing field, the same rules and standards. This means reforms are necessary. And these reforms will also bring the Western Balkans closer to membership. These reforms will also make the Western Balkans even more attractive for European investors and make our respective economies – which is very important – converge. Because today, we have a situation where the Western Balkan economies are at 35% of the EU average. So there is a lot of work to be done to have more convergence of the economies.

Finally, the fourth pillar of the Plan is, if reform efforts are being done, they will be matched by increased EU funding for investment. In other words, we have proposed a EUR 6 billion investment package. This is composed of EUR 2 billion in grants and EUR 4 billion in loans. The same logic applies like to our investment plan NextGenerationEU for the Member States. That is investment and reforms. Funds will be released upon delivery of reforms. So it is conditional. It works very well in the European Union. I am deeply convinced it will work in the Western Balkans, too.

Thank you again. This has been an excellent Summit. We want to move forward, and we want to move faster. Let us seize the moment.