The European Union-Western Balkans Summit in Sofia on May 17 should reaffirm the European perspective of the Western Balkans, European Council President Donald Tusk said.
Tusk was speaking in Tirana on April 24 after talks with Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama, Tusk’ first stop on a tour of Western Balkans capital cities in preparation for the Sofia summit in May.
“In Sofia we should reaffirm the European perspective of the Western Balkans,” Tusk said.
“But what is equally important, the summit should define ways and means to improve connections with and within the region. It is about human, digital and infrastructure connections,” he said.
Albania and other countries of the Western Balkans should be fully integrated into Pan-European transport corridors. Traveling between capitals of the Western Balkans should not take longer than flights to Beijing as is still sometimes the case, Tusk said.
“To avoid power cuts we should invest more together in upgrading our energy grids and interconnections. Young people from the region should get more opportunities to study in the EU. A doubling of Erasmus+ funding will make sure that this objective is within reach. And finally, we should increase our common efforts on cultural exchanges and promotion of national identities.”
Tusk said that boosting co-operation in these areas did not require waiting for EU enlargement.
” And improving our connectivity would be beneficial both for citizens and businesses from Albania and other Western Balkan partners as well as from the European Union.
“I want to be very clear here, this connectivity programme is not an alternative to enlargement or a substitute for enlargement, it is a way to use the time between today and tomorrow more effectively than before,” he said.
The Sofia summit would also be an occasion for the leaders to discuss common security challenges, such as migrant smuggling, terrorism and organised crime.
“Here we have to continue our fight as brothers in arms,” Tusk said.
The Sofia summit, a pet project for Boiko Borissov, Prime Minister of Bulgaria – the country currently holding the rotating Presidency of the Council of the EU – is being preceded by controversy because of the objections of five European countries to the status at the summit being accorded to Kosovo, which they do not recognise as independent.