Any country wishing to join the EU will need to prepare not just its central government and administration, but also the local and regional level: this was the main message from the 2018 edition of the CoR’s Enlargement Day 2018, an annual flagship event on the local and regional dimension of EU enlargement policy, which was organised for the fourth time on 3 and 4 May 2018, in co-operation with the Bulgarian Presidency of the EU.

Citing tasks ranging from the effective use of pre-accession funds and implementing up to 70% of EU legislation to explaining the importance of the accession process to citizens and building up cross-border partnerships, CoR members and their counterparts from the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Albania and Turkey agreed that local and regional authorities in candidate and potential candidate countries have a clear role to play in preparing for EU accession. Their exchange of experiences and good practices was also shared in a Plenary Session with Johannes Hahn, European Commissioner for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Negotiations on the second day, who recalled: “EU enlargement is merit based: quality goes before speed.”

Jelena Drenjanin, co-chair of the Joint Consultative Committee with Montenegro (EPP/SE), noted: “Building this Union has taken time, effort and compromises, but it also gives us economic growth, peace and a bright future. We will keep our standards and expectations high and insist on our key values of peace, democracy, rule of law and socioeconomic values.” József Ribányi, member of the JCC with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (EPP/HU), agreed: “Raising awareness of inter-cultural dialogue, the impact of EU policies in our societies, EU values, rights and opportunities for citizens can help local municipalities ahead of EU accession. This can be successfully achieved through twinning activities or City-to-City Partnerships.”

Focusing on the upcoming EU – Western Balkans summit in Sofia, Lilyana Pavlova, Minister for the Bulgarian Presidency of the Council of the EU, said: “The European perspective for the Western Balkans is a geostrategic investment in stability and security. There can be no stability and prosperity in Europe while parts of the continent face instability and insecurity. We would like to bring tangible benefits to the citizens of the Western Balkan countries, but also to the EU citizens and business. That is why the Bulgarian Presidency of the Council of the EU has placed the focus on connectivity – transport, digital, education, energy, culture. Connectivity within the region and with the EU is vital for developing closer ties, bringing our peoples closer together, and for enhancing political stability, economic prosperity and social development.”

To conclude, Franz Schausberger (AT/EPP), Chairman of the CoR Working Group on the Western Balkans and CoR rapporteur for the Bulgarian referral on “Enlargement: Inclusion of Western Balkans Local and Regional Authorities in the EU’s Macro-Regional, Cross-Border and Other Transnational Cooperation Initiatives”, underlined the CoR’s agreement to make the digital economy one of the priorities for the Western Balkans: “I fully support all efforts to link infrastructure between Western Balkan countries and the EU in the areas of transport, energy and digital services. The development of the EU Digital Single Market in the Western Balkans is essential for developing businesses, creating growth, boosting productivity, promoting innovation, transforming public services and improving citizens’ quality of life.”

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