EU-Western Balkans Summit 2020: Creative solutions, sustainable cooperation and smart development

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EU-Western Balkans Summit 2020


Sustainable peace, economic prosperity and a resilient civil society are key requirements for a promising future in the Western Balkans. This year’s EU-Western Balkans summit will focus on regional cooperation and strengthening the economy and labour market through green and digital transformation, education and entrepreneurship, and inclusivity.
The new methodology on accession and enlargement presented this spring, and the EU’s move to open membership talks with Albania and North Macedonia, have created new momentum, though the COVID-19 crisis has since clouded these ambitions. Further involvement of regional and local governments, companies, civil society, and especially youth and women, will be key to recovering from this political, economic, health and trust crisis.

This year’s summit offers the opportunity to look ahead and focus on the crucial topics defining the future of the region. We look forward to bringing together innovative minds and decision-makers from across all sectors to discuss and define smart solutions for further progress and cooperation.

Our Balkans series has welcomed Presidents, Prime Ministers, and Ministers from the region as well as key representatives from the EU institutions and member states. Furthermore, civil society and business are regularly represented in the discussions.



Session I - Supporting Regionalisation: A Bridge to Strong and Stable Democracy Expand Session I - Supporting Regionalisation: A Bridge to Strong and Stable Democracy

For too many countries in the Balkans, democracy and civil liberties are fragile concepts. The EU’s plan to gradually integrate Western Balkan countries could help solidify democratic and economic development. The German Council presidency has stated its aim for the EU to act visibly and effectively to build resilience and work towards EU accession for Western Balkan countries. However, concurrent enterprises such as the EU’s economic recovery plan for the region and its Regional Economic Area (REA) initiative risk contending with regional strategies, such as Serbia, Albania, and North Macedonia’s ‘Mini-Schengen plan’, instead of complementing them. Political and economic development depends on strengthening the capacity of the region as a whole, encouraging stability, and bringing all countries closer to the EU. The EU must find ways to address these and other challenges and act as a bridge for Balkan nations to overcome their divides to avoid merely propping up the region. A strong foundation based on a regional agenda of shared interests, strong leadership, and economic development will enable the Balkan region to stand on its own feet and encourage thriving, stable democracy. Right now, aligning post-COVID economic recovery with political reforms presents another opportunity to take a step in the right direction.

Questions include:

  • How can the EU recovery plan, the Regional Economic Area and the ‘Mini Schengen’ plan complement each other? Should any financial support be linked to reforms?
  • What are the current most significant challenges facing the development of a regional agenda, and how can the EU provide support in overcoming these?
  • How can regionalisation bring Western Balkans countries closer to EU accession?
Continue to 8 Dec
Session II - Opportunities: A Green Agenda for the Western Balkans Expand Session II - Opportunities: A Green Agenda for the Western Balkans

In the context of the COVID-19 crisis, the full inclusion of the Western Balkans in the ‘green recovery’ plans of the EU may improve the investment climate and increase competitiveness for future membership. It can also prepare countries in the region for EU accession by aligning them with the EU’s 2050 Climate Goals. The ‘European Green Deal’ foresees the active engagement of the Western Balkans, but given the continued dependence in the region on polluting carbon-based technologies, governments and energy companies were rather sceptical of the Commission proposal. Both EU and non-EU members fear that implementing the European Green Deal could harm growth, kill jobs, and reduce energy security. On the other hand, investing and reorienting the economy towards renewable energy sources could create jobs and counter negative demographic forecasting by providing new labour opportunities, incentivising people to remain in the region. In fact, shifting the regional energy system to renewables could grow the economy of the region by an estimated 2% per year over the next 20 years. The Commission’s thinking on the recovery and economic development of the region will incorporate the green agenda for the Western Balkans in its Economic and Investment Plan, showing that a green transition has the potential to be a launch pad for post-COVID recovery, while bolstering resilience against future economic shocks.

Questions include:

  • How can the ‘Green Deal’ create new structures and base lines for long-term economic growth?
  • Is there a need for a tailor-made ‘Green deal for the Balkans’?
  • How can a sustainable economic strategy best help to promote political and social transformation? Can a ‘green recovery’ help to foster resilience and stabilise regional
Continue to 9 Dec
Session III - Opportunities: Digital and Technology: a chance to bring the region forward Expand Session III - Opportunities: Digital and Technology: a chance to bring the region forward

The technology industry in the Balkans is in its early stages, however more programmes are being developed and incentives offered to build on the talent in the region. Despite a promising digital ecosystem, digitalisation of business and digital skills are still at a low level and often only apply in the gig economy, increasing the vulnerability of people without adequate social security. Policymakers should do more to tap into this and encourage digital transformation and education. This is a chance to simultaneously stimulate growth, innovation and opportunity within the region, especially for women, while stemming brain drain and out-migration. Furthermore, it can help to stabilise the job market in the long-term and create additional opportunities. Digitalisation could motivate investors and entrepreneurs to transform the region into a hub for technology and innovation, encouraging the coordination of digital infrastructure and creating incentives for regional technological development. Aligning the digital sector with the EU’s objectives lays part of the groundwork for future EU accession.

Questions include:

  • What is the potential of a vibrant technology and innovation industry to transform the economy and society in the Western Balkans?
  • Can increased political and financial commitment in the digital sector help create jobs and perspectives for a new generation in the region?
  • How can the EU help promote the development of digitalisation in the region?
  • What can be done beyond financial investment to develop digitalisation in the region?


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