By Edwig Ban
The sixth meeting of the Craiova Group took place in Belgrade. At the meeting was attended by Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić, Prime Minister of Romania, Mrs. Viorica Dăncilă, Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov and Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras.
The viability of the Craiova Group’s existence is illustrated by the fact that on the agenda of the Belgrade meeting there were a multitude of projects and initiatives to strengthen regional economic cooperation and support the European integration of the Western Balkan states.
What is Craiova Group?
The Craiova Group is a collaborative project of four European countries – Romania, Bulgaria, Greece and Serbia – for the purpose of furthering their European integration as well as economic, transport and energy cooperation with each other. The Group originated in a summit meeting of the heads of government of Bulgaria, Romania and Serbia, held on 24 April 2015 in the Romanian city of Craiova in southern Romania.
At the group’s inaugural meeting, Romania’s then-Prime Minister Victor Ponta indicated that he was inspired by the Visegrád Group. Romania and Bulgaria both joined the European Union on 1 January 2007, while Serbia has been in accession negotiations since January 2014. Since October 2017, the meetings have been quadrilateral since the October 2017 meeting in Varna, Bulgaria.
One of the first initiatives, after a meeting in Vidin, Bulgaria, was to strengthen the telecommunication networks in the border regions of the countries. Other goals include helping Serbia join the European Union and the construction of a motorway linking Bucharest, Sofia and Belgrade.
On 2 November 2018, Prime Minister of Bulgaria Boyko Borisov said that Prime Minister of Greece Alexis Tsipras proposed a joint bid for the 2030 FIFA World Cup by Bulgaria, Romania, Serbia and Greece during the meeting in Thessaloniki.
During the meeting in Belgrade, Romania’s first Minister, Mrs. Viorica Dancila, highlighted two aspects. The first point was the cooperation between the Craiova Group countries, both in terms of bilateral economic and trade cooperation, but also cooperation in this quadrilateral format. “We addressed issues related to energy, infrastructure, tourism and sport.” Viorica Dancila discussed with President Vučić about the cooperation between Romania and Serbia, about the infrastructure that will link the two countries, as well as about the opportunity of an economic forum that effectively helps Romanian businessmen to invest in Serbia and vice versa, and about cooperation in tourism.
The President of Serbia talked about infrastructure projects and estimated that it is important to complete the East-West transport corridors 10.
“Today we talked specifically about the construction of a Timisoara-Vrsac highway and I was pleased to find that the Romanian side launched the feasibility study in December,” Vucic said.
Vucic added that Belgrade will be connected with Timisoara, Sofia, Thessaloniki and Athens.
Viorica Dancila reiterated the importance of government meetings in the G2G format, showing that she is expecting the forthcoming meeting of the Governments of Romania and Bulgaria, precisely to implement many of the projects that we have discussed today. The concrete projects concern the construction of new bridges across the Danube. At the same time, the Prime Minister of Romania referred to the Danube as a high-performance navigable river.
A second aspect discussed during the talks referred to the assumption of the Presidency of the Council of the European Union by Romania, starting January 1, 2019. There is a special interest in cooperation. The representatives of the four states have stressed they will support steps to integrate Western Balkan countries into the EU.
I suggested Mr. President Vucic make a visit to Bucharest during the Presidency held by Romania in order to make known the important steps Serbia makes regarding its European path, to raise awareness about Serbia’s desire to close chapters open negotiations and I want to congratulate you, Mr President, for the opening of chapters 17 and 18, ”Dancila said.
The next meeting of the Craiova Group will be held in Romania and will take place during Romania’s presidency of the EU Council.
By Edwig Ban