Friends of Europe’s Balkan Journey seeks to circumvent stagnant debates on enlargement in order to focus on moving the region forward in practical terms through political imagination and forward-looking solutions. Reframing the narrative to focus on people-centred priorities rather than political objectives can bring a fresh policy perspective to overwrought discussions on how to strengthen and develop the Balkan region and close the gap to the EU.

The prospect of EU accession often frames the Balkans’ narrative. Democratic and economic growth are intertwined with the enlargement protocol, tying the Balkan region’s advancement to its EU aspirations. But as the process drags on, frustration grows and steps forward falter – perhaps the time has come for both sides to revitalise this approach.

Development prospects need to go beyond the end goal of EU membership. The benefits of a robust democracy, stable economy and social evolution should be goals in themselves, forging a foundation for a thriving region with its roots in durable peace, reconciliation and resilience.

The goals for a resilient region and EU accession are the same. But it is time to recalibrate the talking points. A greater focus on inclusion and amplifying the voices of women and youth is one clear path forward. Other priorities include digital transition, green transformation, increased regional cooperation and the strengthening of democracy and rule of law. Our journey will engage with these overlapping and interlinking themes, promote new and progressive voices, and foster pathways to regional cooperation, resilience and inclusion.

Through an article series, conversations with key stakeholders, and a novel working group on women’s economic empowerment, in addition to our flagship annual summit, this Balkan Journey will compile ideas, concerns and suggestions from across all sectors of society, the EU and international organisations, informing debate and concrete policy recommendations for a region with infinite untapped potential.

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Working Group

Creating new opportunities for women in the regional labour market is crucial for sustainable economic development in the Western Balkans. This is more important than ever given the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the long road ahead to social and economic recovery.

As part of its Balkan Journey, Friends of Europe’s new Working Group on women’s economic empowerment aims to explore the economic opportunities for women in the Western Balkans and identify the challenges to fostering women’s development in all aspects of economic life, as well as recommendations for overcoming them. The Working Group is carried out in partnership with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

Made up of a set of four intimate debate rounds, this Working Group is debating key questions such as:

  • How does women’s economic empowerment link with development?
  • What are the best avenues, tools and mechanisms to bring this link forward?
  • How can we ensure that women are seen as protagonists of their own empowerment?
  • How do we strengthen women to have the resources to be economically successful?
  • Do we need to rethink the current model of economic empowerment?

The four debate rounds involve around 30-40 experts, including national and local government representatives from the Western Balkans, European and international institutions, civil society, and the private sector. The issues at stake are discussed through interactive, moderated discussions, with an emphasis on identifying recommendations and ways forward.


Meeting 1 – Outcomes


Meeting 2 – Outcomes


Related content


* For the United Nations Development Programme, references to Kosovo in this document accordingly shall be understood to be in the context of Security Council resolution 1244 (1999). For the European Union, this designation used is without prejudice to positions 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.

Nina Antonovska
Nina Angelovska

Co-Founder of Grouper.mk, President at Macedonian E-commerce Association and UNCTAD eTrade for Women advocate for Eastern Europe

Show more information on Nina Angelovska

Nina Angelovska is an entrepreneur, who co-founded the leading North Macedonian e-commerce platform Grouper.mk, which contributed to a 350% increase in online sales in the country. She also co-founded the first Macedonian e-commerce association. As the former minister of finance of the Republic of North Macedonia, Angelovska focused on digitalisation and technology as central to problem-solving, progress and reform. Named among Forbes’ ‘30 under 30’ in retail and e-commerce in Europe, she has also been recognised by United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) as one of seven women global advocates in e-trade.

Photo of Danela Arsovska
Danela Arsovska

Mayor of the City of Skopje

Show more information on Danela Arsovska

Danela Arsovska is the Mayor of Skopje. Additionally, she serves as the President of the Macedonian Chambers of Commerce, the union of national chambers of commerce, and Chair of the Macedonian Union of Employers’ Organizations. Arsovska is also a Representative in the parliament’s National Council for European Integration. She is an Appointed Member at the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Court of Conciliation and Arbitration in Geneva and has previously served on the Panel of the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) at the World Bank Group in Washington.

Photo of Fjoralba Caka
Fjoralba Caka

Professor of EU Law at the University of Tirana, former Albanian deputy minister of justice and 2020-2021 European Young Leader (EYL40)

Show more information on Fjoralba Caka

Fjoralba is the former Albanian minister for justice covering European integration and anti-corruption policies. Having started her career as an academic teaching EU Law, she has maintained an ongoing cooperation with civil society organisations. She also served as a lawyer on issues related to strategic litigation and offered legal aid for people in need and for marginalised communities. In addition, she has led projects focusing on youth and national anti-corruption campaigns, including “Fighting Corruption in the Higher Education System” and “Bookworm Project – outdoors mini-library”.

Gordana Čomić
Gordana Čomić

Serbian Minister for Human and Minority Rights and Social Dialogue

Show more information on Gordana Čomić

Gordana Čomić was appointed to the cabinet of Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabić’s in October 2020. Formerly a member of the Serbian parliament, she served as deputy speaker of the Serbian National Assembly and acted as the chair of the Foreign Policy Committee. Čomić was also a member of the National Assembly delegation to the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, where she was elected rapporteur of the Committee on Human Rights, Democracy and Humanitarian Affairs. Having founded the Women’s Parliamentary Network of the Serbian National Assembly, Čomić has actively advocated for gender equality and the equal participation of women in all decision-making positions in Serbia.

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