BALKANS – Boosting connections on the road to the EU

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The EU has pledged to continue membership negotiations with countries in the Western Balkans. But the region faces many challenges, including lack of progress in restructuring the economic model to ensure that all countries are functioning market economies driven by export and investments rather than import and consumption. Improving connectivity in the Western Balkans is also a key factor, not only in boosting economic growth and fostering job opportunities for youth but also in forging better neighbourly relations with the EU, despite the perils of radicalisation. Is the long road to membership a vision or a reality?

With some of the Balkans’ top politicians and decision-makers in attendance, we will be debating ways of further re-energising the region’s myriad connections with the EU.

Join the discussion on Twitter using #BalkansSummit.


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09.30 – 10.00 Welcome coffee and registration of participants

European Union leaders have pledged to continue membership negotiations with countries in the Western Balkans despite Brexit, saying their commitment to EU expansion remains as strong as ever. Speaking at the Balkans conference held in Paris in July, Federica Mogherini, the EU High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy, insisted the EU would continue to nourish “Euro-enthusiasm” in the region and said EU integration of the Balkans was important for peace and stability both in the region and in the EU. Meanwhile, Johannes Hahn, Commissioner for European Neighbourhood Policy & Enlargement Negotiations, has warned that one of the biggest challenges in preparing the Western Balkans for EU membership is restructuring the economic model to ensure that all countries are functioning market economies driven by export and investments rather than import and consumption.

  • Given the hard work that lies ahead on Brexit and waning public appetite for further EU enlargement, are European leaders being overly optimistic in promising that membership negotiations with the Western Balkan states will remain on track?
  • What are the key sectors where progress has been made and which questions pose the biggest challenge in the EU membership negotiations?
  • To what extent are Russia, China and Turkey competing with the EU’s presence and influence in the region?

Ditmir Bushati, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Albania

Gordon Duguid, Senior Adviser for South Central Europe, U.S. State Department

Stefan Füle, Special Envoy for the OSCE and Western Balkans at the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs; European Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighborhood Policy  (2010-2014) and Trustee of Friends of Europe

Tanja Miščevič, Chief Negotiator for Serbia’s Accession to the European Union

Helga Schmid, Secretary General of the European External Action Service (EEAS)

Goran Svilanović, Secretary General of the Regional Cooperation Council (RCC)

11.15 – 11.45 Coffee break

Increased connectivity, especially in the transport and energy sectors, will help the Western Balkans to attract more investments, thereby boosting the region’s economic growth and capacity to create jobs. Better connectivity can also help forge good neighbourly relations among countries in the region and ensure stronger connections with the EU. The EU has set aside up to €1 billion for connectivity investment projects and technical assistance for the 2014-2020 period, with special attention given to transport networks, regional energy efficiency and green growth. Chinese, Turkish and other foreign investors are also putting their money on connectivity projects. Boosting connections is not just about hard infrastructure, however. It also requires “soft” reform measures to open markets, create a transparent regulatory framework that builds investor confidence, and the removal of barriers.

  • While the focus is very much on hard connectivity, are countries in the region implementing the “soft” reform and improved economic governance measures required to create real intra-regional connections in the region and is digital connectivity getting enough attention?
  • What progress is being made to reduce income and labour market inequalities across the region and how does the inequality challenge impact on investment plans?
  • Are countries moving fast enough to ensure respect for the rule of law and in fighting organised crime and corruption?

Marta Arsovska Tomovska, Minister of Information Society and Administration, Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia

Tanja Fajon,  Member of the European Parliament Delegation for relations with Bosnia and Herzegovina, with Kosovo¹ and Trustee of Friends of Europe

Damian Gjiknuri, Minister of Energy and Industry, Albania

Ismir Jusko, Minister of Communication and Transport at the Council of Ministers, Bosnia and Herzegovina

Zana Tabaku, Chief Executive Officer of Appdec, an application development center

13.00 – 14.00 Lunch


Traditional genre of folk music from Bosnia and Herzegovina

As Grandson of Zaim Imamović, one of the most influencial sevdah singers of the Westen Balkans, Damir Imamović, also a musician, started developing his own repertoire while performing in Bosnia and  across Europe.

Damir Imamović’s sevdah is based on a passionate research of traditional music of the region. While meeting sevdah masters, musicians, singers and authors of this art form, he constantly expands his repertoire and creates a special style of contemporary sevdah.  Damir has been cited as the « king of sevdah music » by the Huffington Post and «a true revolutionary of the genre » by

More information on Damir Imamovic.

The flow of refugees and migrants through the so-called “Balkans route” may have eased in recent months but the crisis has been a vivid reminder of the crucial role played by the Western Balkans in tackling immigration and human trafficking. The region has also seen a rise in radicalisation of young people and a high number of fighters going to join the so-called Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. Meanwhile, prime ministers of the Western Balkans have signed up to establishing a Regional Youth Cooperation Office to fund projects that enhance youth cooperation, diversity, regional mobility and reconciliation as well as promoting opportunities for professional qualifications. The focus on young people is important for a region where a lack of opportunities has resulted in youth unemployment figures of over 50 per cent in many countries and also prompted a heavy brain-drain across the region.

  • Now that the crisis has eased on the so-called “Balkans route”, what is the state of cooperation between the EU and the Western Balkans on questions related to immigration and refugees?
  • What is being done to counter the rise in radicalisation by implementing better policies in areas such as education and job-creation and just how can the EU help the Western Balkans in this struggle?
  • What are the main priorities of the new Regional Youth Cooperation Office and how will it operate in practice?

Đorđe Bojović, Head of Programme Department at European Grassroots Antiracist Movement

Valon Murtezaj, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Kosovo¹

Doris Pack, President of the Robert Schuman Institute in Budapest and Chair of the European Parliament Committee for Culture and Education (2009-2014)

Alida Vračić, Executive Director of the Think tank Populari, Bosnia and Herzegovina

Rastislav Vrbensky, Manager of the Istanbul Regional Hub for Europe and the CSI of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)

15.30 End of conference


  • Đorđe Bojović

    Head of Programme Department at European Grassroots Antiracist Movement
    A graduate in International Law and an alumni of the American University Post-Conflict Transformation and Development Programme in Kosovo, Ðorde Bojović became an activist for Human Rights through the Youth Group of the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights, Belgrade. He previously worked for the Youth Initiative for Human Rights (YIHR), where he focused on developing activist networks, the programme of transitional justice and regional cooperation. Bojović currently works for the European Grassroots Antiracist Movement (EGAM), a network of organisations combating racism, extremism and radicalisation.

  • Ditmir Bushati

    Minister of Foreign Affairs, Albania
    Formerly the Chair of the Parliamentary Committee for European Integration, Ditmir Bushati helped negotiate the Stabilisation and Association Agreement with the European Union. Prior to his political career, Bushati was a civil society leader and a founding director of the European Movement Albania (EMA). He has lectured and published numerous articles on international law and European enlargement in Albania and Kosovo, and served as an analyst for Freedom House.

  • Gordon Duguid

    Senior Adviser for South Central Europe, U.S. State Department
    Prior to working in the U.S. State Department, Gordon Duguid served as the Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Serbia from 2013 to 2016. From 2010 to 2013, Duguid was seconded to the Organization of American States as the Executive Secretary for the Inter-American Committee against Terrorism. He also previously served at NATO, and the U.S. Embassies to India, Burundi, Zambia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. In Washington he was Deputy Spokesman, Director of Foreign Press Centers and Director of Press Relations.

  • Tanja Fajon

    Member of the European Parliament Delegation for relations with Bosnia and Herzegovina, with Kosovo¹ and Trustee of Friends of Europe
    Tanja Fajon is a politician and journalist, currently serving as Member of the European Parliament. A passionate advocate of freedom of movement and its economic benefits, Fajon was previously the European Parliament rapporteur on the visa liberalisation process for the Western Balkans. In this position, she was
    instrumental in helping Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina win the right to visa-free travel to Europe.

  • Stefan Füle

    Special Envoy for the OSCE and Western Balkans at the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs; European Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighborhood Policy (2010-2014) and Trustee of Friends of Europe
    As a Czech diplomat who started his professional career at the Czechoslovakian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Stefan Füle has since then held many important positions at the Ministry, Czech embassies abroad as well as within international organizations such as UN and NATO. Füle served as the European Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy from 2010 to 2014, where he placed high importance on consolidating peace, democracy and prosperity in Europe on the Commission’s agenda.

  • Damian Gjiknuri

    Minister of Energy and Industry, Albania
    Prior to focusing on energy and industry, Damian Gjiknuri has held several positions within the Albanian Ministry of Defence and Ministry of Interior, with a special interest in the fight against terrorism and international legal affairs. As Vice-secretary for legal affairs of the Albanian Socialist Party (SPA), he was one
    of the authors of new Electoral Code of Albania in 2008. Gjiknuri now uses his high legal expertise to help improve Albania’s regulatory environment so as to increase investments in hydropower and renewables as well decentralising the Albanian energy markets.

  • Johannes Hahn

    European Commissioner for European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement negotiations
    Since 2014, Johannes Hahn serves as the Commissioner for European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations. In his new portfolio, Hahn has launched, together with the High Representative Federica Mogherini, a comprehensive reform of the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP). During his term as EU Commissioner for Regional Policy and among other impressive achievements, Hahn implemented the most ambitious reform of Regional Policy, transforming the Cohesion Policy to become a strategic investment tool, helping deliver Europe’s 2020 Goals. Prior to working for the European Commission, Hahn served as the Austrian Minister for Science and Research.  

  • Shada Islam

    Director of Europe and Geopolitics at Friends of Europe
    Shada Islam works on issues related to the future of Europe as well as on Europe’s relations with emerging nations. She set up the Asia Programme for Friends of Europe in 2011 and is closely involved with initiatives to promote Asia-Europe exchanges including within the context of ASEM. She is the former Europe correspondent for the Far Eastern Economic Review and continues to write for leading international publications.

  • Ismir Jusko

    Minister of Communication and Transport at the Council of Ministers, Bosnia and Herzegovina
    Ismir Jusko’s career includes various functions and fields of expertise, such as Cantonal Minister of Interior Affairs, Head of Counter-Terrorism Department at US Embassy in Sarajevo, Vice-President at Sector Security Company and Head of Cabinet and Adviser at BiH Ministry of Security. In addition to his rich professional experience, Jusko has completed various international trainings on fighting terrorism and handling crisis situations, for which he was awarded ten times by the U.S. State Department.

  • Valon Murtezaj

    Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Kosovo¹ and permanent Professor at the IESEG School of Management, Paris
    Prior to serving as Deputy Minister, Valon Murtezaj was the Principal Adviser for Foreign Affairs and Deputy Chief of Staff to the Prime Minister of Kosovo, Isa Mustafa. For over a decade, Murtezaj has worked as a senior expert within several international organisations including UNICEF, UNDP, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and Doctors Without Borders. His passion for Human Rights and Youth encouraged Murtezaj to teach at the prestigious IESEG School of Management in Paris, where he currently shares his knowledge on international negotiation and diplomacy.

  • Doris Pack

    President of the Robert Schuman Institute in Budapest and Chair of the European Parliament Committee for Culture and Education (2009-2014)
    Starting her career as member of the German Bundestag, Doris Pack moved on to the European Parliament, specialising herself in the Western Balkans and cultural and educational issues. In her prolific 25 years as a Member of the European Parliament, Pack served as the chair of the Committee on Culture and Education, as well as of the Delegation for Relations with South-East Europe (1994-2009). Among other achievements, she played a significant role in the European Parliament report for Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) and advocated for the improvement of the country’s political landscape.

  • Helga Maria Schmid

    Secretary General of the European External Action Service (EEAS)
    Helga Schmid is the Secretary General of the External Action Service (EEAS). Previously she was the Director of the Policy and Early Warning Unit of the Council General Secretariat of the European Union and was one of the closest advisers to the EU-High Representative for the Foreign and Security Policy, Javier Solana. Prior to her European career, Schmid held several positions within the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs and was a senior adviser to German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

  • Giles Merritt

    Founder & Chairman of Friends of Europe, author of 'Slippery Slope: Europe’s Troubled Future'
    Giles Merritt is the founder and chairman of the Friends of Europe think-tank and author of the recently published book ‘Slippery Slope: Europe’s Troubled Future’. He was previously a foreign correspondent for the Financial Times and an Op-Ed columnist on EU affairs for the International Herald Tribune. In 2010 he was named by the Financial Times as one of 30 ‘Eurostars’ who most influence thinking on Europe’s future.

  • Tanja Miščevič

    Chief Negotiator for Serbia’s Accession to the European Union
    Tanja Miščević plays a key role in the growing relationship between Belgrade and Brussels. Prior to her appointment as Chief Negotiator, Miščević served as State Secretary for Defense Policy at the Serbian Ministry of Defence, Vice President of the Anticorruption Agency, and Director of Serbia’s European Integration Office. She was also Special Adviser to the Deputy Prime Minister responsible for foreign trade and UNDP Senior Adviser for Security Projects in the South Eastern Europe region. On top of her political career, Miščević is also Professor at the Faculty of Political Sciences in Belgrade, Serbia.

  • Goran Svilanović

    Secretary General of the Regional Cooperation Council (RCC)
    Goran Svilanović plays a leading role in the promotion and enhancement of regional cooperation in the region. A Serbian diplomat and politician, he previously held the positions of Coordinator of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Economic and Environmental Activities and Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.

  • Zana Tabaku

    Chief Executive Officer of Appdec, an application development center
    Among the few women who considered a career in ICT, Zana Tabaku is the founder of Appdec, a company developping custom made software, purchased by the government but also by other larger organizations. Previously she worked as a Software Engineer in Appdec and Software Developer in Cacttus. During this period she was also a Board Member in Kosovo ICT Association (STIKK) and continues to be Admission Committee Member in Innovation Centre Kosovo (ICK) since 2012.

  • Marta Arsovska Tomovska

    Minister of Information society and Administration, Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia
    As Minister, Marta Arsovska-Tomovska is a at the forefront of the Macedonian government’s digital transformation and public administration reform, dedicated to building first class public service and a successful and smart nation. She is a frequent speaker at national and international ICT conferences, rewarded for achievements and extraordinary contribution to the development and promotion of ICT. Arsovska-Tomovska is also currently a member of the World Summit Award (WSA) Grand Jury and a non-Executive Member of the WSA Board.

  • Alida Vracic

    Executive Director of the Think Tank Populari, Bosnia and Herzegovina
    Alida Vračić is the executive director and co-founder of Populari, a Sarajevo based independant think tank, operating throughout Bosnia and Herzegovina through desk and field research. Previously, Vračić worked with the European Stability Initiative, a Berlin-based Think Tank, on projects related to judicial and economic issues. She has also led several Balkan-wide projects at the Human Rights Centre at Sarajevo University and at the Spanish Institutional Programme initiative for institutional co-operation of judicial nature with the ombudsmen, bar associations and associations of judges in Bosnia and Herzegovina and the region. 

  • Rastislav Vrbensky

    Manager of the Istanbul Regional Hub for Europe and the CIS, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)
    In his current position, Rastislav Vrbensky provides support to more than 20 countries and 18 UNDP offices in the region. He has extensive experience of the UN development action in the Balkans, having served as UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative in Montenegro, and UNDP Deputy Resident Representative in Serbia. Prio to joining UNDP, Vrbensky worked for the Government of Slovakia and the Regional Environmental Centre for Central and Eastern Europe, an international NGO.


    1This designation is without prejudice to position on status, and is in line with UN Security Council Resolution 1244/99 and the International Court of Justice Opinion on the Kosovo declaration of independence. For the UNDP, the references to Kosovo shall be understood to be in the context of the Security Council resolution 1244 (1999).


Konrad Adenauer StiftungRegional cooperation centre    UNDP       US Mission to EU    tap_a4_rgb_final-logo

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