In parallel with the EU-Western Balkans Summit in Sofia, held on 17 May 2018, the European Policy Centre – CEP, together with the European Fund for the Balkans – EFB, and with the kind support of King Baudouin Foundation, organised a panel discussion: New Pact for Europe: Exploiting the Window of Opportunity. At this event, panellists discussed the internal and external challenges standing in the way of further EU integration process, as well as Serbia’s possible contribution to the debates on the future of the EU.
Our keynote speaker on this panel was Mr Janis A. Emmanouilidis, Director of Studies of the European Policy Centre (EPC, Brussels) and the author of the Report “Re-energising Europe: A package deal for the EU27”. Produced under the New Pact for Europe project, the Report is the culmination of five years of work reflecting more than 120 national and transnational debates. It represents a publication of the King Baudouin Foundation, the Bertelsmann Stiftung, Open Society Initiative for Europe, and European Policy Centre (EPC) and provides a systematic overview of the internal and external challenges that are standing in the way of further European integration. In order to counter the danger of a more regressive, nationalistic, closed, illiberal and authoritarian Europe, this report provides concrete measures in the form of recommendations, whilst taking into account interests of European citizens, member states, and as well as Europe itself. You can access the Report here.
The panel was open for media and other attendees. More than 50 people from state institutions, academia, donor communities, CSOs and diplomatic corps have attended this event.
Mr Emmanulidis opened the panel by highlighting the need to “grab the opportunity to re-energise EU“.
“Right now, there is a strong sense of optimism in Europe, after years of crises and challenges that EU has faced. We have to use this moment because it will not last long, and restore Europe’s strength. This moment should also be used by the Western Balkans,” said Emmanoulidis.
“The elections for the European Parliament are next year, and the time is right to decide what kind of Europe we want – liberal, democratic and open, or illiberal, regressive and authoritative. If we do not use this opportunity, populists will celebrate,” Emmanoulidis warned.
In addition to Mr Emmanoullidis, other panellists at the event were Ambassador Mr Duško Lopandić, former Head of the Mission of Republic of Serbia to the European Union and member of our Council, Ms Sonja Licht, President of Belgrade’s Fund for Political Excellence (BFPE), Ms Tanja Miščević, Head of Negotiation Team for Serbia’s EU Accession and foreign politics commentator Mr Boško Jakšić. The panel was moderated by Ms Milena Lazarević, Programme Director of the European Policy Centre – CEP.
“We need to regain trust in the EU among the citizens in Serbia, but also trust in the EU member states, trust in its institutions and its ability to solve problems”, ambassador Mr Lopandić said. Lopandić pointed out that 2025, as the year of Serbia’s possible accession to the EU, is a realistic framework but only if we approach reforms seriously and demonstrate the desire and dedication to European values.
Ms Sonja Licht stressed that Serbia should be more active in its relation to the EU, but also that the EU should be active towards Serbia as well. In that light, she also made remarks on the EU-Western Balkans Summit.
“Since the Summit in Thessaloniki in 2003, there was no similar meeting and that represents a major problem,” Licht said. ” It is good that such summits returns on the agenda. It is especially significant that the Summit was organised in one of the the newer member states, which highlighted the EU enlargement as one of the most important priorities of its Union presidency”, said Licht.
„It is up to us to make the effort“, said Licht, citing as an example, the ever sceptical attitudes present in Germany when it comes to enlargement and saying that “we should re-examine whether we have made enough effort to connect with its citizens, show what we can offer, why we should be a part of the Union and how we can contribute to the future of the EU.“
Miščević agreed with her, saying that we must know how to “impose” and “show what we can offer to the EU, to prove that we belong to European values“. She added that setting the timeframe for membership (2025) was significant – “it does not mean that we are going to sit and wait now, but it is good that Serbia can now plan its path to the EU.“
“The EU must first reform itself“, Jakšić said. He also said that “media should have been more active in promoting European values, but that this is impossible in a paradoxical situation in which political elites declaratively support European values, and tabloids drastically deviate from them.”
“There is a feeling that Europe is in confusion, not knowing which way it wants to go, whether through a democratic and liberal community, what are the principles on which it is based, or through unrealism, populism and authoritarianism? The situation is, therefore, confusing for us – we do not know what kind of Europe we are going for”, Jakšić concluded.
Prior to the panel, a closed-door meeting was held. The purpose of the meeting was gathering of a selected number of experts from civil society, academia, diplomacy, law, and economics, with the goal to consider the above-mentioned report. In the second document attached, you can find more information about the closed meeting.
Overall, events of this kind not only re-affirm CEP’s position as a high-quality think tank in the Western Balkans or even Europe, but also help it strengthening cooperation with its international partners, such as, in this case, the Brussels-based EPC.