Two MEPs from the Socialists and Democrats Group in the European Parliament attended the inter-parliamentary conference on trans-European networks policy (TEN-T) and the connectivity agenda held in Pristina (Kosovo) 2-3 March 2017.
The conference was attended members from the parliaments of accession candidate countries, the South-East Europe Co-operation Process Parliamentary Assembly (SEECP-PA) and the European Parliament, together with experts from the Regional Co-operation Council (RCC) and the European Commission.
Well-connected transport and energy networks between the EU and its neighbours are crucial for growth and jobs. They help attract investment and provide opportunities for businesses and citizens, including young people. In the Western Balkans, they contribute to good neighbourly relations.
The connectivity agenda aims at improving links within the Western Balkans, as well between the regions of the EU. The European Union has set aside up to €1 billion for connectivity investment projects and technical assistance for 2014-2020.
Knut Fleckenstein MEP (Germany), S&D co-ordinator on foreign affairs, said:
“Connectivity is not merely about expensive infrastructure projects, but also about political dialogue and co-operation. By working together to address shared challenges, the Western Balkan countries can develop mutual trust which is crucial for reconciliation, good neighbourly relations and prosperity in the region. Furthermore, this is a key element for these countries to advance on their path towards EU membership.
"In this context it is crucial that this political dialogue and regional co-operation help with the practical implementation of soft measures and technical standards at the same time. Overall, taking into consideration the difficulties in the implementation of certain measures, it is crucial that Western Balkan countries address concrete issues such as, in the transport sector, the opening up of the transport market and increasing the effectiveness of border-crossing procedures. Or in the energy sector, the development of trading/market coupling with one or more neighbours and the increasing of liquidity, as well monitoring progress with indicators.
"The Trieste Summit that will be held in Italy in July 2017 will be the occasion for an assessment of the implementation of soft measures so as to address the existing barriers created by physical and non-physical bottlenecks."
Isabella De Monte MEP (Italy), member of the European Parliament's transport committee, added:
"Transport is by its very nature international and for this reason co-operation with our neighbours is not only important but also essential for strengthening social, economic and territorial cohesion. Therefore it is crucial that barriers are removed in every sense, efforts are made to make customs more efficient, legislation is uniform, investment is put into environmentally friendly modes of transport, and road safety is a priority because transport must not only be efficient but also safe.
"We are in a period of big geopolitical change. The Western Balkans are not only our neighbours, but they also represent a bridge towards the neighbours of the neighbours. Expanding co-operation with third countries is not only about extending the TEN-T networks to our neighbours. The need to strengthen our economic, social and political ties has to be the aim of our job."