The European Commission unveiled on February 25 a substantial €3.2 billion investment package to support 21 transport, digital, climate and energy connectivity projects in the Western Balkans.
EU Neighbourhood and Enlargement Commissioner Oliver Varhelyi said this major investment package will accelerate the delivery of the Economic and Investment Plan for the Western Balkans on the ground. “We have identified these flagship projects in close cooperation with our partners. Better and more sustainable connections in transport, digital infrastructure and renewable energy will boost the economy, drive the green and digital transition of the region and bring a host of opportunities for people and businesses in the Western Balkans and across the EU. These investments will also speed up the integration of the region, in line with its clear European perspective,” he said.
This is the first major package of projects under the EU’s ambitious Economic and Investment Plan for the Western Balkans, which the Commission adopted in October 2020. The projects are designed to bring tangible benefits to all six partners in the region.
Over the next years, the Economic and Investment Plan is set to mobilise up to €30 billion of investments, as a combination of grants, preferential loans and guarantees. The Plan will help close the development gap between the European Union and the region and support the post-pandemic economic recovery, the Commission said, adding that the Plan will also help to deliver the broader EU Global Gateway strategy, launched in December 2021.
The financial package unveiled on February 25 includes €1.1 billion in EU grants from the Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance 2021-2027 (IPA III), additional bilateral contributions from EU Member States and Norway, and favourable loans from international financing institutions. The €3.2 billion investment package is channelled through the Western Balkans Investment Framework (WBIF) – an EU-led multi-donor investment platform and the primary financial vehicle for implementing the Economic and Investment Plan in the areas of public infrastructure and private sector competitiveness.
One of the priority sectors is sustainable transport. Projects involve construction of major road and railway connections in the region, including the Mediterranean, East-West, and Rhine-Danube corridors and the rail corridor between Skopje in North Macedonia and the Bulgarian border. These projects will facilitate regional trade, reduce travel times and spur sustainable economic growth, bringing great benefits for local citizens and businesses in the region.
In clean energy, projects will advance the development of renewable energy sources with the construction of solar power plants and the Trans-Balkan Electricity Transmission Corridor, which will be instrumental for a successful clean energy transition in the region and will contribute to phasing-out of coal use.
In the environment and climate, projects involve construction of wastewater treatment plants, which are essential for the green perspectives of the region, and will help to safeguard the health and welfare of the people in the Western Balkans.