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Plenary Panel 4: EU-Balkans: What is Our Common Future?

Plenary Panel 4: EU-Balkans: What is Our Common Future?

Discussion Points:

  1. Rethinking Europe: What role for the Western Balkans?

  2. Stock-taking of the Berlin process: (How) Can the WB countries ensure substantial and sustainable benefits for their citizens?

  3. United in disillusionment – united in hope: How to reclaim the credibility of the enlargement process in the eyes of the citizens, both in the WB and the EU?

  4. In the aftermath of French and German elections: Is EUrope done with supporting Western Balkan “stabilocracies”?

Background

On the 60th anniversary of singing the Rome Treaties, Italy finds itself symbolically again in the role of a host of a European gathering, this time hosting the Western Balkan countries in Trieste. The idea of common European values coupled with hopes for peace and prosperity that mobilised the initial 6 countries in Rome in 1957, seems to have persevered its appeal for six decades, at least to those countries still aspiring to join the club. However, the faith in the European project of both (potential) candidate countries and the EU member states is continuously tested by crises, mounting disillusionment and growing populism. In the time of resurfacing nationalisms, inward-looking communities, estrangements and divisions throughout Europe, how can their relationship be strengthened?

Amidst the ongoing process of rethinking the European Union and its future shape, along with burdensome Brexit negotiations, the enlargement policy is (still) falling outside of Brussels’ spotlight. In the light of the Rome Summit, the European Commission presented a White Paper on the Future of Europe outlining five scenarios for EU by 2025, while failing to refer to the enlargement and indicating “a vision for its own future at 27”. However, the EU continues to proclaim its unwavering political commitment to the European perspective of the WB region, at least through the Berlin process. Initiated by Germany in the centenary of the end of the First World War, it currently represents “the main regional cooperation mechanism keeping alive the EU accession perspective of the Western Balkan countries”. The Berlin process also brought an opportunity for a ‘double and parallel’ restart of the integration process, as well as a ‘faster EU track’ for the region uniting the WB countries by the common goal of joining the EU. Already half way through the envisaged five consecutive summits, it is time to recapitulate the progress in regard to goals and commitments made in its frame, and highlight the prospects and best ways to use its potentials for achieving concrete and tangible results in line with local, national and regional needs.

The 2017 is also marked by crucial elections in a number of key member states – including Austria, the Netherlands, France and Germany. The vision of Europe and European future of these member states has been one of the key points of contention among the candidates. The elections reconfirmed citizens’ need for new political parties and movements offering fresh visions and energy. The presidential elections in Austria and France particularly marked a historical shift by bringing unprecedented victories to independent candidates, while crumbling the traditional centre left – centre right division of stale political parties and their worn-out discourses. A (symbolic) battle for the future of Europe between the populist right-wing nationalists and liberal pro-Europeans is under way. However, the effects of these elections on the EU enlargement policy and support for accession of the EB countries remain to be seen.

Will the new, pro-European leaders bring a new outlook for the WB? The citizens of the Western Balkan countries share the mounting discontent with their European neighbours. The spring brought a wave of protests in Serbia, with citizens calling for the protection of democratic values and effective democratic institutions, along with disturbing instability in neighbouring Macedonia. Will the newly elected European leaders mark the end of Europe’s support to “stabilocrats”, hence proving to be consistent to proclaimed democratic values also outside their national countries?

Despite the disillusionment and fear of globalisation, the answer for overcoming the challenges Europe is facing is in joint, decisive and substantial action towards shaping its common future, through education, research, innovation and connectivity. In the times of uncertainty, the WB countries have to (re)claim their place in Europe’s future as partners and contributors to common stability and prosperity.

Selected Readings:

Previous BSF Sessions on the Similar Topics:

2016

Special Event: Enlargement Moving beyond Europe’s Fatigue and Bilateral Disputes

GRAND OPENING: The Future of Albanian-Serbian Relations and the Stability of South East Europe

Post Paris, Post BREXIT – Perspectives for the Western Balkans

Session 2: The Belgrade – Pristina Dialogue and the EU Future

Session 7: What Choices for Countries in Between in an Increasingly Divided Europe?

2015

The Berlin Process in Belgrade: The EU as a Peace Project Revisited in the Western Balkans

Plenary Panel 4: Improving the European Model of Governance: Ways Forward

Session 6: Germany, the Reluctant Leader of Europe?

2014

Plenary Panel 2: The EU and its Peripheries

Plenary Panel 4: Is It Time For a New Balkans Commission

Session 4: EU Enlargement: Picking Up the Pieces?