At the request of the current Bulgarian presidency of the Council of the EU, the EESC was asked to prepare an exploratory opinion on the challenges and priorities that countries of the Western Balkans are facing in the European integration process, as well as in the area of economic and social cohesion. Western Balkans will be one of the policy priorities of the Bulgarian presidency and a Western Balkans Summit is scheduled to take place in May 2018 in Sofia. Following the recent economic crises in Europe, the forecasts for economic growth in the Western Balkans are now good, although progress on reform has been slow, the rule of law has been weak, and corruption is persistent.
The European Union and the Western Balkans have a shared interest in working more closely together to guarantee all our citizens economic and social development, as well as security. The future of the region is a European future. The EU and the Western Balkans economies have benefited from closer integration as trade doubled in the last 10 years. The EU is today the first trading partner of the region, the biggest investor and the most credible and reliable political and geostrategic partner.
Croatia and the whole Western Balkan region appear very high on the agenda of external relations of the EESC. We run quite a wide range of activities with the various countries of the Western Balkan region: we issue opinions, operate together with our partners in the Joint Consultative Committees, and since 2006 we also come together to specific Civil Society Forums with representatives of the organised civil society from the entire Western Balkan region. The representatives from Croatia have very actively taken part in these events and have shared their experience with the other participants.
The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) has developed a dual approach, regional and bilateral, for its relations with civil society organizations (CSOs) of the Western Balkans.
The EU Neighbourhood, especially the candidates and potential candidates for EU accession, is at the very top of the priority list for the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) with regard to external relations.