23 November 2021
On behalf of the European Union, I want to warmly welcome you to this event that officially inaugurates the European Union support to the Western Balkans fund through the project support to promote civil society regional actions in the Western Balkans.
Tirana has the privilege to host the Secretariat of the Fund, therefore I, also have the privilege to represent the Union today on behalf of my colleagues in Brussels, but also on behalf of European Union delegations in the region, that just like us in Albania, follow with high interest the activity of this project and I feel honoured by this opportunity.
Unfortunately, we are not yet out of the Covid-19 pandemic. However, this has not taken our attention away from the region. Quite the opposite! It made us look even more intensively at a way to cooperate, both in fighting the pandemic and tackling its effects on the region.
Last month you had visits of leaders of European Union to the region, including the Commission President, Ursula von der Layen.
We want to continue working on shared priorities, with tangible benefits for citizens, under important strategies such as innovation and green agenda, roaming reduction, security cooperation, the Covid-19 response, and European Union economic and investment plan.
The specific support today to Western Balkans fund originates from an earlier summit, the 2018 Sofia Declaration, and the Sofia priority agenda adopted by European Union and member states leaders, together with the leaders of six countries. On that occasion, we underlined the importance, I quote, “promoting and deepening links among civil society organisations in the WB”, unquote, and mention specifically the role of the Western Balkans Fund to foster reconciliation and good neighbourly relations in the Western Balkans.
As a concrete follow-up to the Sofia declaration, the action that we kick off today is indeed designed to increase the participation of grassroots organisations in regional cooperation in view of good neighbourly relations and reconciliation. We consider civil society in the region as an essential and reliable partner, and we recognise the multiple roles civil society plays.
They are promotors of fundamental values, laying at the heart of the European Union, a key to building a healthy democracy. They make leaders and institutions accountable. They represent the views and aspirations of citizens of the region and offer concrete support to communities. They test and bring forward innovative perspectives and solutions to sustainable development challenges, be there in the area of economy, social inclusion, environment, or energy.
Finally, in the enlargement context, the involvement of civil society organisations contributes to a deeper citizen understanding of the reform needed to qualify for European Union membership. This can help show that European Union accession is an institutional government lead exercise and a process, a transformation process based on genuine civic participation.
This context allows me to call on public authorities and institutions in all the countries to facilitate dialogue with civil society actors, opening up spaces for discussion and creating a more systematic engagement of citizens’ organisation on the table.
The European Union provides considerable support to civil society, notably through the civil society facility, where more than 345 million euros are available for civil society and media.
We care very much about the regional dimension of the work with the civil society organisations, which entails the creation of sustainable regional networks that can support grassroots organisations to grow and become stronger voices from the ground, able to reach national and international decision-makers, and we expect this project to do exactly this.
Ladies and gentlemen, I want to conclude by saying that the joint action of the European Union and Western Balkans Fund serves the European Union agenda in the Western Balkans and reflects our values and aspirations. We expect this cooperation to enable the grassroots organisation to engage in regional cooperation, positively impact good neighbourly relations and reconciliation, and have a greater role in the accession reforming processes.