ECONOMY Baumgartner: French Development Agency to support common regional market, green economy also in focus

The French Development Agency (AFD) will support the project for establishment of a common regional market in the Western Balkans, adopted at the recent Berlin Process Sofia Summit, co-chaired for the first time by an EU member and a candidate state – Bulgaria and North Macedonia, French Ambassador Cyrille Baumgartner told MIA.

Ambassador Baumgartner says fight against climate change will also be a priority, along with green economy and renewable energy sources, while French investors are starting to show interest for the country’s possibilities.

Baumgartner says there is a close link between domestic reforms of countries on the road to the EU and the Union’s requirements and expectations, beyond the Acquis Communautaire.

“In the case of the Western Balkans there is also a regional dimension. This is owed to the fact there is a European perspective for the six countries in the region. Regarding all of them, even if the state of progress varies from country to country, while Kosovo is still not recognized by all EU member-states. This is, among other things, because some of these countries have faced conflict situations not that long ago, others face problems related to borders or historic disputes, whereas regional integration is relatively poor, be it economic exchange or transport, for example. The Berlin Process was established as an attempt to find a solution to this situation,” says Ambassador Baumgartner, who is a connoisseur of the region considering his previous engagement as deputy head of mission at the Sofia-based French Embassy between 2006 and 2010.

He says the recent Sofia Summit has a big symbolic significance, despite the bilateral dispute.

“That is why France is taking part and supporting this process, saluting the recent initiative towards the creation of a common regional market. First and foremost, there should be an action at a European level to support this regional project. The Economic and Investment Plan for the Western Balkans is set to allocate about EUR 9 billion. In bilateral terms, AFD will support this process. In fact, the agency has already launched its activities in some regional countries. Here, in North Macedonia, the agreement over its framework is already drafted and both sides have approved it. The signing event will be determined once the political and health circumstances allow for this,” says Baumgartner.

On the Western Balkans Green Agenda, adopted upon the model of the EU Green Deal, the Ambassador says the French President has saluted this regional initiative as a signal of countries getting closer and a contribution to the Union’s efforts in the fight against climate change and environment protection.

According to him, the European Council meeting on December 10-11 will attempt to strengthen EU’s commitment, especially regarding its mid-term goals of achieving climate neutrality by 2050.

“This will be followed by the Climate Ambition Summit, an important event for re-emergence of the global climate ambition amid a more favorable international context, considering the objectives of the future U.S. administration. That is why it is important that the Western Balkans takes part and supports this ambitious movement. What is more relevant, having in mind that the region is directly affected by environmental problems and the public opinion is increasingly informed and organized, there is rising pressure for change and release of the economic potential of the green economy,” adds Baumgartner.

He says European programmes should provide active support to the movement, while the AFD has already identified this field as priority it future bilateral activities.

“Besides AFD, France also possesses expertise in the field of renewable energy sources, while French investors are starting to show interest in the country’s possibilities,” notes Baumgartner.

On the COVID-19 pandemic, he says that EU has supported the regional countries by adopting a package worth EUR 3,3 billion for the most urgent needs, as well as managing the longer-term effects of the crisis.

“This effort, in addition to the Economic and Investment Plan, seems to correspond to the needs and cannot be compared to things obtained from other places, probably more publicized. I personally believe this proves that we, Europeans, sometimes do more and talk less,” concludes French Ambassador Cyrille Baumgartner.

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