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 engages with these overlapping and interlinking themes, promotes new and progressive voices, and fosters 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 compiles 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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Shared Justice

Justice reform in the Western Balkans will only be effective if it is implemented in earnest and inclusively. As part of its Balkan Journey initiative, Friends of Europe brings together key experts from public and civil society institutions in the Western Balkans to address vital concerns and ways forward concerning the establishment of a lasting rule of law framework and strong justice systems.

The Working Group on shared justice aims to shed light on the process(es) of justice reform, the effective instruments and tools, the examples that need to be followed and the models that need to be avoided in the development of a joint programme of justice reform for the Western Balkan region.

Comprised of three roundtable meetings throughout 2023 and 2024, the Working Group on shared justice will debate key questions such as:

  • Why is it important for countries in the Western Balkans to engage in processes of justice reform?
  • What are the priorities when drafting and implementing a process of justice reform?
  • What are some of the main lessons learned during this process, and how could things be done differently?
  • How can the EU contribute to the establishment of a judicial culture based on independence,
  • impartiality and integrity?

The roundtable meetings will involve around 20-30 experts, including national and local government representatives from the Western Balkans, European and international institutions, civil society and academia. The issues at stake will be discussed through interactive, moderated discussions, with an emphasis on identifying recommendations and ways forward.

To support Shared Justice, please contact Juraj Majcin at juraj.majcin@friendsofeurope.org

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 Caka 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’.

Etilda Gjonaj

Member of the Albanian Parliament and former Albanian minister of justice

Show more information on Etilda Gjonaj

An expert in justice system reform, Etilda Gjonaj is former Albanian minister of justice and has also served as the country’s deputy minister of justice and commissioner on public administration issues at the office of the ombudsperson. Gjonaj is a civil society activist, supporting human rights for over a decade at the Albanian Helsinki Committee. As a lawyer, she has handled numerous human rights violations cases, including legal processes affecting children. Gjonaj lectures at the Department of Criminal Law at the University of Tirana, and has authored several publications, research studies and scientific articles in local and international legal journals in the field of justice.

Women’s Economic Empowerment

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

Meeting 3 – Outcomes


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* 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.

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