The Commission's new strategy for the Western Balkans reconfirms the EU perspective for all the Western Balkan countries and creates a platform for strengthened EU engagement. Sweden welcomes the strategy and the Bulgarian presidency's focus on the Western Balkans this spring, leading up to the EU-Western Balkans Summit in Sofia in May.
The future of the region as an integral part of the EU is in the Union's very own political, security and economic interest. However, achieving future EU membership is in the hands of the Western Balkan countries themselves. More emphasis should be put on fundamental values such as democracy, rule of law and human rights.
As stated in the strategy, joining the EU is a choice, and the door is open for the Western Balkans. The political leadership in each country, with the support of its citizens, need to implement the necessary reforms and communicate the opportunities and challenges of the enlargement process to its citizens. Without broad public support, the necessary reforms will not be sustainable.
Sweden will remain a committed partner in this endeavour, both politically and through our development cooperation, where we annually contribute with approximately € 57 million to the Western Balkans. Our bilateral contribution to reform cooperation in Kosovo amounts to € 10 million in 2018. That makes us the fifth biggest donor in Kosovo and the second amongst EU member states. In addition to that, we also contribute to EULEX, KFOR, and of course, the budget for EU programmes in Kosovo.
A credible accession perspective, based on the principles of conditionality, is the key driver for democracy, prosperity and stability in the Western Balkans. This new strategy strengthens that perspective and provides a new momentum for the enlargement process.
Sweden has several ideas on how to use this new momentum.
Firstly, more emphasis should be put on reforms, rather than the number of opened chapters. We are consequently in favour of the Commission's suggestion to carry out more detailed rule of law assessments for all countries, including the establishment of action plans, even before the negotiations have started.
Secondly, we would like to see more focus on solving outstanding bilateral issues between the countries, reconciliation and strengthened regional cooperation. Further mediation efforts should be considered. A normalisation of the relation between Pristina and Belgrade is essential for the whole region.
Thirdly, we believe that the EU and the Western Balkan countries could strengthen their cooperation in areas of mutual interest, such as Justice and Home Affairs, socio-economic issues, environment, transportation and energy. This could be done through involving and inviting the Western Balkan countries to participate in relevant EU structures.