[Opinion] : The EU New Growth Plan for the Western Balkans: A Geo-strategic Investment


By Nicasia Picciano, PhD, @NicasiaPi ,  

07 April 2024, – Russia`s aggression war in Ukraine has inevitably set a significant pressure on the Western Balkans` economies and societies, thus jeopardizing their stability. And the EU has grasped timely the urgency of intervening immediately to contain the current damages and avoiding others. In the end security there means security at home.

The need for a steadfast geo-strategic investment in a stable, strong and united Europe is behind the new growth plan for the Western Balkans. Brussels has finally realized of the urgency to speed up their accession process, based on key EU-related reforms. The plan is an occasion to further increase the visibility and awareness of the EU`s support to the region, strengthening its engagement with the local audiences.

Enlargement remains a key policy of the European Union and the Western Balkans` full membership is in the Union´s very own political, security and economic interests. Aware of this on 8th November 2023, the European Commission presented, together with its annual enlargement package, a new growth plan for the Western Balkans.

The Growth Plan is based on 4 pillars aimed at enhancing the region`s economic integration with the EU`s single market; boosting economic integration within the region through the Common Regional Market (CRM); accelerating fundamental reforms; and increasing financial assistance to support the reforms through a Reform and Growth Facility for the Western Balkans for the period 2024-2027.

The lack of convergence is a major issue for the Western Balkan region. Currently, it is around 35% of EU average level. Yet, economic convergence is a key element for the Western Balkans to get closer to the EU. 

The Plan`s potential is, therefore, to double the size of the Western Balkan economies within the next 20 years. It is a proposal for a new instrument worth 6 Bill EUR (2 Bill EUR in grants and 4 Bill EUR in concessional loans) with payment conditioned on the Western Balkans’ partners fulfilling specific socio-economic and fundamental reforms.

As part of the Growth Plan, every Western Balkan partner will be invited to prepare a Reform Agenda based on existing recommendations including from the annual Enlargement Package and the countries’ Economic Reform Programmes (ERP). This Reform Agenda will be consulted with, assessed and adopted by the Commission.

Payments will be done twice a year, based on requests submitted by the Western Balkan partners and following verification by the Commission of the achievement of the relevant payment conditions and pre-conditions, such as macro-financial stability, sound public financial management, transparency and oversight of the budget.

If the payment conditions are not met, the Commission will suspend or deduct a corresponding amount from the payment. The Western Balkan partners will have 1-2 years to fulfil the conditions, otherwise the amount will be redistributed among the other ones in the subsequent years.

Building on the European Commission`s Growth Plan back in November 2023, the EU Council presidency and the European Parliament have reached on 4th April a provisional agreement on setting up a Reform and Growth Facility for the Western Balkans, following their meeting on 6 of March.

The Facility will complement the existing Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance (IPA III), by increasing the financial assistance to the partners of the region in a consistent way. Concretely, it will support the partners in undertaking EU-related reforms; stimulating their economic convergence on the basis of the ambitious EU Reform Agenda; promoting their alignment with the EU values, laws, rules, standards, policies and practice with a view to future EU membership.

As a next step the provisional agreement will need to be endorsed by the EU Council and the Parliament. Particularly, the EU Council`s role will be strengthened as far as the governance of the Facility is concerned. Specifically, it will adopt and amend the Reform Agendas, it will monitor the fulfilment of the preconditions for EU support and the assessment of the fulfilment of payment conditions. Last but not least, the Council also focuses on the partners’ alignment with the Common Foreign and Security Policy.

Russia`s aggression war in Ukraine has woken up Brussels towards the region. Since the Thessaloniki Agenda in 2003 many promises have been made and many commitments, both from Brussels and the region, have not been kept.

The New Growth Plan represents a decisive chance for both the EU and the region. For Brussels it means to accompany, to support and to speed up the countries` necessary domestic reforms with a view to their integration. For the Western Balkans it constitutes the critical moment for undertaking these reforms and to turn their back on fatal postponements. It is easier said than done.

Yet, it is time not just for attempts, but for concrete actions. Russia`s aggression in Ukraine is a wake-up call of how labile peace is and how steadfast commitments are urged instead. Otherwise said, sustainable success asks for comprehensive reforms.

The EU`s bold offer to the region should thus be taken with decisiveness and via resolute efforts from both sides. Also, the EU should learn about that coherence and consistency of its key policies and actions must not be the result of triggering facts. Rather, they should be a priority ex ante and without exceptions. Its facts-based ex post responsive approach is short-sighted and may turn fatal in the long run. It is time to change abruptly the route.


Nicasia Picciano holds a Phd on European Union state-building in Kosovo from the University of Flensburg, Germany. She is the author of the book the European Union State-Building in Kosovo. Challenges and Lessons Learned: An Assessment of EULEX, Dr. Kovač, Hamburg. She has previously worked as a researcher for Kosovo Foundation for Open Society, Prishtina, Group for Legal and Political Studies, Prishtina and Balkans Policy Research Group, Prishtina. Currently, she covers the Western Balkans for Sbunker (Prishtina) and Le Courrier des Balkans (Paris). Her research interests span from peace- and state-building, reconciliation and ethnic conflict, cultural tourism, green energy transition, the Berlin Process and the Connectivity Agenda in Kosovo and the Western Balkans. 

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of 

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