Centre for Civic Education (CCE) organised a “Western Balkans Reflection Forum – from Berlin to Trieste and the way ahead” in cooperation with Centre franco-autrichien pour le rapprochement en Europe (CFA/ÖFZ), Centre international de formation européenne (CIFE) and Istituto Affari Internazionali (IAI).
Daliborka Uljarević, CCE executive director, reminded of the importance of Berlin process, as well as on the need to analyse this process in Montenegro. “It is important to consider the position of Montenegro within a broader framework, to occasionally go beyond the prism of our internal political affairs and to understand the challenges which EU faces, so that we could make the best use of our time and resources, given the circumstances, in order to democratise. Berlin process is there to remind us that European Union (EU) has not yet turned its back on Western Balkans in spite of the challenges it faces”. She underlined that the main goal of Berlin process is to connect Western Balkan states and to promote regional cooperation.
“Inclusion of civil society in Berlin process has significantly expanded the political dialogue. Experience, practice and capacity of civil society are responsible for this. From this angle, it is clear that future of Western Balkans lies in its integration, and that Berlin process relies on this dialogue and highly depends on it”, she concluded.
Florent Marciacq, from the University in Luxembourg and from CFA/ÖFZ, pointed out that EU enlargement policy is not so popular in the EU as it used to be, which is why EU often “sends mixed signals”. “In reality, the enlargement has become much more unpredictable, despite the promises that were made to the Western Balkan states. One of the reasons is the rise of populism, Eurosceptic parties, and consequently of “veto players”, he assessed.
However, he expressed conviction that there are mechanisms to make this process more predictable, stating that it implies a change in the approach to enlargement and ever-increasing complexity of every stage, strengthening the principle of conditioning, as well as the depoliticisation of European integration.
He emphasised the importance of civil society in terms of the communication on these matters in relation to citizens of EU as well as to citizens of WB.
Eleonora Poli(IAI) estimated that current multiple crises Europe is facing, call for a serious reflection not only on the EU’s institutional architecture but also on the enlargement process. “Rising populism and nationalism, catalysed and exacerbated by the economic downturn and migration crisis, have driven the majority of European citizens to oppose any further widening of the EU. To this, you must add Brexit and the election of Trump, which might challenge the EU even more”, she added. To this end, she pointed out that aspirations towards closer integration by the states of the Western Balkans risk clashing with growing scepticism among citizens from EU Member States. “Enlargement towards the Western Balkans is strongly supported by Italy. At the same time, Italy supports the idea of a European differentiated integration, with a stronger role of coordination for EU institutions. That means that the process of enlargement will be done step by step, and WB countries together with other EU Member States, will have the opportunity to decide what kind of EU integration they envisage for their countries”, Poli concluded.
Tobias Flessenkemper (CIFE) pointed out that this Forum aims to “initiate an essential and open dialogue on the future of Europe. Integration of Western Balkan states means that citizens of Montenegro would also have an input in the shaping of the EU. The importance of exchange of opinions is clear to everyone. As the next member of NATO, Montenegro will have to be even more aware of its international and European obligations”.
German ambassador in Montenegro, Hans Ginter Matern pointed out, during the discussion, that “Berlin process is not a substitute for the enlargement, but an attempt to demonstrate the importance of regional cooperation between WB states, and what could be the benefits in meeting the European standards”. He addressed the participants by stating: “We in the EU need more of your initiatives and energy in order to accelerate these processes”.
Milka Tadić Mijović, president of CIJ, expressed the concern due to the increase of populism, right-winged political parties throughout the EU, and the potential consequences that these may have in the EU.
Neđeljko Rudović, MP of CM URA, indicated on the long-lasting instability of region which should not be neglected by the EU, and on the importance of economic development in the initiation of changes on larger scale. He agreed with German ambassador that region should be more proactive towards the EU.
Ivan Vujović, international secretary of SDP, emphasised that Berlin process is currently most stimulating initiative from the EU, however, fact is that EU is losing its appeal in the region, and that is a result of wrong promotion of EU values by local political and social elites.
Student Katarina Mićković reflected on the challenges of young people by referring to recently published research of CCE according to which the majority of young people would like to leave the state. Thereby, she asked the panellists about the manner in which the Berlin process can contribute to keeping young people from leaving the Balkans and to find there more perspectives.
Dritan Abazović, MP of CM URA estimated that EU “is undergoing the process of Balkanisation” and simultaneously expressed his optimism that this crisis which EU is facing will be its another chance, as well as that the idea of EU is still strong in Montenegro.
Jovana Marović from Network politikon, recommended that European Commission should link its reports more to benchmarks that have been set in negotiation chapters and to the success made between the two periods of negotiation.
On one hand, panellists agreed that Western Balkan states have to meet the criteria imposed by this process, and be more proactive in that, while on the other, member states should pay closer attention to political processes in Western Balkan states and insist on the strict implementation of EU standards.
International event in Podgorica is a continuation of similar forum, previously organised by CIFE, IAI i CFA/ÖFZ in Paris, in May 2016, as well as of Western Balkans Civil society forum in Paris, organised by the European Fund for the Balkans, ERSTE and Friedrich Ebert Stiftung and other partners, also in Paris, in July 2016. The objective of this meeting was to provide a platform for the exchange of information and opinions on past achievements of Berlin process, ahead of the next meeting which will take place in Italy and its goals.
Berlin process was launched and officially supported by Chancellor Angela Merkel, in August 2014. It was launched with the aim to revitalise multilateral connections between Western Balkans and certain EU member states, as well as to improve regional cooperation among Western Balkan states in the area of infrastructural and economic development. It was launched with the conference on Western Balkans in Berlin in 2014, followed by second one in Vienna in 2015. Third conference was held in Paris in 2016, while the last one will be held in Trieste in 2017.
The meeting gathered some 40 representatives of Government, NGOs, political parties, media, academic community, diplomatic corps and young people.
Svetlana Pešić, programme associate