- By Jamie Shea
With several positive steps taken recently towards improved regional cooperation in the Western Balkans and important decisions ahead, where does this leave the region in terms of both its own stability and development and the path to integration with the EU? How can the EU help ensure that the region is able to both access the benefits of entering the bloc but also ensure that the region and its states are, in themselves, stable, resilient and able to flourish economically, asked moderator Dharmendra Kanani.
Time for a different approach?
At a “particularly historic moment” with many Western Balkan states waiting for a “signal” that they’re on the right path to joining the EU in the near future, said Dharmendra Kanani, is it time now to change tactics?
- 5:33 “This is a critical time. And I think that it should be deemed as a critical time for the European Union as well…” 6:10 “Western Balkan countries do not need a different approach… because we do have a clear roadmap in the integration process, which is incorporated fully, in my view, in the new methodology.” [Stevo Pendarovski]
- 1102 Europe is “preoccupied by itself… Instead of thinking about the Balkans only when big migration waves are coming, Europe should support the pro-European leaders in the region… Otherwise, everybody knows… the alternatives are waiting – authoritarians and populist Eurosceptics.” [Stevo Pendarovski]
- 35:07 “I’m proposing to change the strategy. Now we are always looking to conditionality…I think we have to turn it around… It is a boring process, this enlargement – there is nothing going forward.” [Erhard Busek]
With or without EU: the benefits of regional cooperation
Why not focus on your own rules of the game, invest in your own future through greater regionalisation, so development and growth are not dependent on a rulebook that doesn’t always seem to be opened up to you? asked Dharmendra Kanani.
- 42:08 “In times of crisis… humans tend to look mostly inward. It didn’t start now but the pandemic really highlighted this moment when we are moving from global to regional interests.” [Majlinda Bregu]
- 45:49 “The region has one good chance, it’s called the Common Regional Market – on that we have the possibility not only to integrate better but to bring forward and push the process of regional cooperation. That is going to be the most important thing.” 47:32 “What we have been doing and will continue to do is to work on two sides of the same coin – on the regional cooperation and the regional integration.” [Majlinda Bregu]
- 8:05 “Regional economic integration is important, since the integration into the single market is irreplaceable. Simply irreplaceable.” [Stevo Pendarovski]
Future of Europe: where are young people in the conversation?
- A conference of young people from the EU and the Western Balkans would generate “smart” solutions. 29:59 “As young people we are left a little bit in the shadow because we want to be involved in this [enlargement] process… for the representatives it is a duty and a principle to work towards this goal but for us, the young people, it’s a need… we are well-educated… full of passion, we crave the change.” [Alesia Alldervishi, youth delegate]
- 51:25 When Austria joined the EU when I was 14 years old “we had visions”: “I continue to advocate for the Conference on the Future to Europe to bring you as the youngsters… in this process because you are the future, and we need your visions.” [Karoline Edtstadler]
What should happen next?
- 1159 There’s only thing we want to hear by the end of the week (11 Dec): “That we finally are going to organise the first intergovernmental conference on our European integration… We have changed the name of the country, in order to one day to be a member of NATO and of the European Union… That was, believe me, a very big sacrifice”. [Stevo Pendarovski]
- 59:39 “Retaining the focus on the European integration of the Western Balkan countries is and remains, and will remain, one of the main priorities of the Bulgarian foreign policy.” [Petko Doykov]
- 2037 “We will stand clear next to you on your way to the European Union… 22:28 “As a demanding and impatient person, I would like to see something this year, but on the other hand, if it is next year, then don’t be frustrated… we will do it anyway.” [Karoline Edtstadler]
- 53:54 “Is enlargement a priority of the EU because having priorities means you do not postpone them in the agenda whenever a case emerges…. opening the accession talks is an empty spoon… It doesn’t mean soon we’re going to become member states, it means that we’re going to talk… to me, personally, it’s a win win.” [Fjoralba Caka]
- 25:03 “The reality is that North Macedonia is now blocked… we might be blocked for another year, so starting from there… is there some kind of plan B?” [Tanja Milevska, journalist]
- 1:15 The president replied that there was no plan B, only plan A: “There are plenty of regional organisations in the Euro-Asian area, but no one of them is offering to us, the former communist states, what is really needed by our citizens… economic integration of the Western Balkans must go hand in hand with the political integration.” [Stevo Pendarovski]
- By Teresa Carvalho
- Area of Expertise
- Peace, Security & Defence
- Frankly Speaking
- By Dharmendra Kanani
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