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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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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