“In considering the requirements for the rehabilitation of Europe the physical loss of life, the visible destruction of cities, factories, mines and railroads was correctly estimated, but it has become obvious during recent months that this visible destruction was probably less serious than the dislocation of the entire fabric of European economy. For the past ten years conditions have been highly abnormal. The feverish preparation for war and the more feverish maintenance of the war effort engulfed all aspects of national economies. Machinery has fallen into disrepair or is entirely obsolete.”
This ambitious plan announced right after the World War II was over in war-devastated Europe by George Marshall was indeed quite enthusiastic and non-achievable for the time being, but from today`s perspective, it is one of the most notable instrumented speeches ever made in integration policy affairs. The visibility of that policy is clear: the still-existing EU project derived from that speech and conducted in a very long term process which still lasts. A never-ending story of the European regional integration project has achieved its culminating point: Brexit. As the official Brussels is now in a position to take over and to propose similar package of actions to other parts across the globe, but most importantly to its first neighbourhood – Western Balkans, it has decided to gather the leaders in Italian city of Trieste to discuss on fostering further cooperation between Western Balkans` states.
With around 15 million inhabitants, Western Balkans plays important role within the EU economy and financial affairs. All those 6 countries are members of CEFTA (free trade agreement) within that space, which enables all of them maintaining the free single market among themselves.
As the EU officials claimed on regional economic integration, the Western Balkan partners are expected to agree on an action plan to develop a Regional Economic Area aimed at boosting the attractiveness of the region to encourage investment and generate jobs, especially through smart growth, start-ups and scale-ups. For the first time within the Berlin process, a digital dimension is part of the action plan: this will contribute to integrating the region into the pan-European digital market. The Chamber Investment Forum of the Western Balkans, which gathers chambers of commerce of the region, will inaugurate its Permanent Secretariat in Trieste at the margin of the Summit: the involvement of the business community will contribute to translating the Regional Economic Area into concrete opportunities for companies in the region. On private sector development, the Commission will step up its substantial existing support to SMEs through a new contribution to the Western Balkans Enterprise Development and Innovation Facility, as well as pushing for more dynamic inward investment.
The Summit in Trieste has also drawn attention to the creation of the Western Balkans Transport Community. However not everything went so easily. As one entity within Bosnia & Herzegovina had vetoed the decision to enter the Transport Community, Bosnia remained the only country outside the treaty establishing this community.
Marshall`s plan for Europe has been pledged to be the most successful regional integration impetus, but there are some of the obstacles that make this project as a very bad idea.
First, this intention has come in up-bottom direction, initiated by the EU and not from the Western Balkans countries themselves. This came especially visible within the initiative of Serbian president Mr. Vučić when he tried to establish the “Western Balkan customs union”, the idea which was explicitly rejected by the EU and especially by some member states. Also, potential spill-over effect from economic to other spheres was denominated with the fact that conflicts have been finished for more than 20 years ago, and no substantial things have been done in reintegrating the region again. It is for all those reasons why most of public believe the Berlin`s idea for Western Balkans is quite bad, since it will not substantially help the recovery and reintegration within the region.
At the end, it remains to be seen how the cooperation among the Western Balkans countries will further develop in light of many external challenges that present obstacle to the final stage of mutual cooperation – the full EU membership.