Western Balkans Reflection Forum Series – the Berlin Process and EU Enlargement Strategy
After years out of the radar, the Western Balkans now seem to be back on the agenda of the EU. The new Enlargement Strategy, issued in February 2018 and the EU-Western Balkans Summit convened in Sofia in May 2018, fifteen years after the Thessaloniki Declaration, both tentatively illustrate the new impetus given by the EU to its enlargement policy. The new dynamic that may be emerging builds on four years of the Berlin process. After Berlin, Vienna, Paris and Trieste, a new Western Balkans Summit took place in this framework in London, in July 2018. What has been the overall contribution of the Berlin process so far and what support can it deliver in the future? Is the new impetus indicative of more credible enlargement perspectives for the countries of the region?
Accession, for some countries of the region, may be in sight. But it is hardly in reach, at least in the years to come. The EU’s reform agenda and forthcoming elections of the European Parliament, multiannual financial framework negotiations, Brexit and other internal and external affairs will continue to capture the attention and mobilise the energy of the member states and EU institutions in the near future. These competing priorities will not make enlargement a smoother, more predictable process; instead, they will make it more dependent on EU politics. How to keep enlargement on the EU’s agenda, not only in Brussels but also in EU capitals? How to better prepare EU Member States for enlargement? Which broader geopolitical factors will have an impact on the EU’s enlargement policy?
In the region, progress remains hesitant at best, especially with regards to democracy, rule of law, good governance, economic development and good neighbourly relations. Weaknesses in these areas persist in spite of the prevailing commitment to EU accession declared by most political parties in the region. And they do not disappear even after accession -as shown in the neighbouring EU Member States. Do these weaknesses stem from a lack of commitment to EU accession, or do they also emerge as a by-product of the EU’s transformation recipe vigorously promoted through its enlargement policy? How to make the accession process a more fundamental vector of change? How to increase joint-ownership over the process?
This conference, which will take place in the framework of the Austrian Presidency of the Council of the EU, will address these questions and many others. It will be co-organised by the European Policy Centre (CEP, Belgrade), Austro-French Centre for Rapprochement in Europe (CFA/ÖFZ, Vienna), Centre international de formation européenne (CIFE, Nice/Berlin), with the support of and in cooperation with the Open Regional Fund for SEE – Promotion of EU Integration (German Cooperation / GIZ), Institut français des relations internationals (IFRI, Paris), Istituto Affari Internazionali (IAI, Rome), German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP, Brussels) and the European Commission (Erasmus+-Programme).
This conference will be part of the “Western Balkans Reflection Forum” initiative, a framework project launched in 2015 by a network of European think tanks in support of the Berlin Process. The initiative promotes discussions with experts in an inclusive, interactive format on strategic, policy-oriented issues relevant to the European Union and the Western Balkans.
Here you can download the Draft Agenda.