Western Balkans gradually getting closer to TEN-T integration
The Balkan states of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia have taken a decisive step towards connecting their transport networks with the TEN-T network. By signing high-level agreements with the European Commission in May, those states are closer to complete integration with the transport network of the EU which can prove critical not only for connectivity but also for economic and political integration.
“With the signature of these agreements, and with our proposal for a Western Balkans European Transport Corridor, we are laying the ground to integrate the transport network of the Western Balkans into the EU’s”, commented transport commissioner Adina Valean.
The process of connecting the Balkan and EU transport networks is supported and promoted by the Transport Community, an international organisation including all EU member states and the Balkan states mentioned above. Balkan-TEN-T integration does not foresee the creation of efficient transport links between the Balkans and the EU alone but also between the Balkans states.
More than transport
The Western Balkans are one of the remaining corners of Europe waiting to become part of the TEN-T network. The region is underdeveloped when it comes to transport and mobility. That is because the Western Balkan economies are still developing, and past and present geopolitical tensions leave their footprint. At the same time, the region’s natural landscape complicates things more since it demands complex work.
The benefits of their integration are recognisable and have been advocated. CER, for example, has supported the inclusion of the Western Balkans in the TEN-T and the commissioning of adequate funds to boost rail development. The EU also recognises the importance of the region’s integration in terms of political influence by providing better connectivity and financial development investments to avoid a drift towards external sway coming from China or Russia, for instance.
Apart from politics, developing an efficient transport network in the region and linking it to the rest of the EU is a long-awaited development that will benefit Western Balkan citizens by allowing them to travel seamlessly and providing more opportunities to develop their economies. Logistics-wise, an efficient Western Balkan transport network could open new possibilities for transport within Europe and towards the East and China.
EIP for Western Balkans
Multiple investment plans currently target the Western Balkans, with the EU’s Economic and Investment Plan (EIP) leading the way to transform the region. According to the Commission, the EIP “aims to spur the long-term economic recovery of the Western Balkans region, support a green and digital transition, foster regional integration and convergence with the European Union”. The Commission adopted it in 2020. It also includes funding infrastructure projects that will contribute to the economic growth of the countries involved and the well-being of the residents.
The EIP has some flagship railway projects that will facilitate the region’s connectivity from east to west and north to south and enhance coastal railway links with the hinterland.
In detail, EIP’s flagship projects in the region include the following:
- Connecting East to West: Corridor X rail connection between Serbia and Croatia, Serbia and Bulgaria, Serbia and North Macedonia. Corridor VIll between Skopje and the border with Bulgaria.
- Connecting North to South: Corridor Vc linking central Europe capitals through Sarajevo in Bosnia and Herzegovina to the port of Ploce on the Adriatic coast. Route 4 linking Belgrade to Podgorica to the Montenegrin port of Bar. Route 10 to connect Belgrade with Pristina.
- Connecting the coastal regions: Route 2 to link the capitals of Tirana and Podgorica and extend to the port of Durres.
The first EIP financing package was approved in early April 2022. Funding will be provided mainly by the Western Balkans Guarantee facility, which could raise investments up to 20 billion euros. Moreover, an additional one billion EU grants could benefit +300 kilometres of rail lines in the region.