In his 2017 State of the Union address, President of the European Commission Juncker declared: “If we want more stability in our neighbourhood, then we must also maintain a credible enlargement perspective for the Western Balkans”. Even though, any further enlargement of the EU will not be feasible before 2025, this statement confirmed the European future of the Balkan region, remaining a geostrategic investment for a stable Europe.
On the 6 of February 2018, the European Commission adopted a new strategy for the Western Balkans countries. On the one hand, it identifies priorities and areas to enhance joint cooperation, on the other hand, it addresses the main challenges the Western Balkans still face, such as the need to significantly strengthen the rule of law. Sustained efforts must be done by each individual country to later integrate the EU.
In order to support the transformation process of the Western Balkans, the European Commission initiated a number of specific actions gathered in six flagship initiatives targeting the following areas:
- Strengthening the rule of law
- Enhancing support for socio-economic development
- Digital agenda for the Western Balkans
- Reinforcing engagement on security and migration
- Increasing transport and energy connectivity
- Supporting reconciliation and good neighbourly relations
Even though sport is not a priority area in the accession and pre-accession negotiations as the EU lacks legislative harmonisation competences therein, it is significant that one of the above initiatives – “Supporting reconciliation and good neighbourly relations” - explicitly refers to sport. The document stresses that supporting education and potential of your people in the region “is crucial for the region’s further development and a prerequisite for peaceful coexistence and reconciliation.” Subsequently, the European Commission has pledged that, in addition to education, cooperation will be increased in the field of culture, youth and sport. The exact form of this flagship initiative is yet to be determined, nevertheless it promises a positive development.
To support the implementation of these initiatives, the Commission has decided to, until 2020, gradually increase the funding available under the Instrument for Pre-Accession. The Commission has pledged as well to double the Erasmus + funding dedicated to the Western Balkan countries. Even though the increased financial envelope will be dedicated mainly “to helping even more young citizens of the Western Balkans to study and gain experience in the EU”, sport organisations could benefit from the youth- and education-related mobility programmes and other initiatives as well.
Finally, the EU Road Map states that: “the EU door is open to further accessions when, and only when, the individual countries have met the criteria”. All Western Balkans Countries have the chance to move forward and achieve progress on their respective European paths.