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.
Should you not be able to see the gallery, please click here.
- The Balkan Barometer Infographics
- Regional Cooperation Council Strategy and Work Programme 2017-2019
- Event report
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 Sevdalinkas.com.
More information on Damir Imamovic.
Moderated by Giles Merritt, Founder and Chairman of Friends of Europe
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