WB 6 towards the Single European Payment Area - Ministers of Finance and Governors of Central Banks meet in Tirana

Publication date: 28.02.2024


Today, on 28 February 2024, the Ministerial "Western Balkans towards the European Payment SEPA)", organized by the Ministry of Finance and the Bank of Albania, took place in Tirana. This Ministerial was held on the eve of the Summit of the Leaders of the Western Balkans with the EU, on the Growth Plan. The European Commission, as part of this plan, has identified access to SEPA (Single Euro Payments Area) as one of the opportunities that the countries in the Western Balkans can benefit long before the EU membership finalisation, once meeting the required conditions. The Ministerial brought together Ministers of Finance and Governors of central banks from the countries in the Western Balkan, with the participation of representatives of the European Commission, the World Bank and the EBRD.

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The Minister of Finance, Mr Ervin Mete, in his speech, stated that the integration of the countries of the Western Balkans into SEPA would bring significant economic benefits to the region. The participation in SEPA for non-EU countries, - said Minister Mete, amid other things, - represents a unique opportunity for the Western Balkans to reduce trade and payment costs both within the region and with the EU.

Mr Mete highlighted that the European Union is the largest trading partner for Albania and the regional countries, as well as the largest source of foreign direct investments and other financial flows. According to official data show that trade with the EU accounts for more than 2/3 of the total trade of the region. More than 70% of exports from Western Balkans are routed to the EU member countries.  Also, the EU is the largest source of foreign direct investments in the region. It accounts for 70% of total FDIs in the Western Balkans.

According to the World Bank estimations, the cost to deliver remittances in Albania is calculated at an average of 8.7% and it is assessed that with participation in SEPA, emigrants and their families could save in a considerable manner.

Minster Mete said that the membership of Albania and Western Balkans in SEPA provides access in modern payment systems which are more efficient and safer. The alignment of our payment systems with those of European countries will increase our attractiveness as an investment destination. Tourism is becoming one of the main factors of GDP growth in the last two years, the minister further said, so the provision of simple, fast and reliable cross-border payments is expected to further support this sector.

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The Governor of the Bank of Albania, Mr Gent Sejko in his remarks pointed out the importance of economic integration among Western Balkans and the European Union, in addition to the fact that this integration, is starting form payment systems completed through the accelerated participation in SEPA.

In this regard, the Governor emphasized that Albania has intensified efforts to achieve this historic objective, aiming to complete the application process for participation in SEPA within June 2024. Albania, beyond the serious commitment it has had within the integration process, has always been careful to follow the principles and standards of the European Union in regulating and reforming the payment market. As a result, based on the findings of the World Bank, which is an integral and important part of this project, Albania is considered avant-garde in the process and is ready to apply for SEPA’s membership.

Mr Sejko, after addressing in detail the measures taken and the next steps, where cooperation and inter-institutional support are clearly identified both within the country and with international factors, reiterated the importance of SEPA adherence for the entire region. In this context, He invited all the countries of the Western Balkans to intensify efforts to fulfil this important objective, which will integrate our markets within the region and with those of the European Union. The governor underscored that this process due to the different stage compliance cannot be a joint and stimulates action for all of us, however we can share experiences and support each other in the process. To this end, Governor Sejko expressed the full engagement and readiness of the Bank of Albania to share the experience and lessons learned from this journey where Albania seems to be avant-garde.

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SEPA enables member countries to make payments in euro, - credit and direct debit transfers like national payments, - eliminating differences between national and cross-border payments and harmonizing standards and operating conditions across all participating countries.

The integration of the Western Balkans into SEPA will bring great economic benefits to the region, - such as reduced trade costs, decreased costs of bank transfers, reduced cash in the economy, simpler and cheaper electronic payments, as well as simultaneously boosting financial inclusion and access to finance. The World Bank is providing technical assistance for the countries in the Western Balkan to meet the necessary conditions for application and eventual membership in the Single Euro Payments Area (SEPA).