28 November 2018 – In the framework of the current Austrian presidency of the Council of the European Union, CEP organised a conference in order to find an answer to the titled question. The conference was part of the Western Balkans Reflection Forum Initiative, launched by a network of European think tanks in support of the Berlin Process. The conference discussed the best ways to keep the enlargement policy on the agenda of the European Union, both in Brussels and in member states. The participants also debated the current contribution of the Berlin Process, as well as their prognosis and expectations for the enlargement process in the future.
The meeting was opened by Florent Marsiak, Deputy Secretary General and research associate of the Austro-French Centre for Rapprochement in Europe (CFA/ÖFZ) and senior associate of the Centre International de Formation Européenne (CIFE) , and the Ambassador of Austria to Serbia, Nikolaus Lutterotti, who pointed out that the responsibility for the pace of the accession process lies primarily in the hands the candidates, whilst adding that Europe also needs the Western Balkans.
“Our way of life can survive only if the EU remains strong, and one of the ways that the EU remains strong is through the enlargement policy,” Lutterotti said.
Tomas Mulman, Deputy Director of the South East Europe Section and the EU Extension of the Federal Ministry of Austria for European Integration and Foreign Affairs, and Tanja Miščević, Head of the Negotiating Team for Accession of the Republic of Serbia to the EU, also took part in the discussion. They agreed that the key is credibility – not just of the enlargement process, but also of the reforms which are supposed to be implemented by the Western Balkan countries.
“The European Union should consider us as partners. The Western Balkans is not a “black hole,” and we need to work together to solve the problem both during the accession process and after we become members, “Miscevic said.
The topic of how to keep the enlargement policy in line with the EU’s agenda, bearing in mind the multiplicity of its priorities (Brexit, the upcoming European Parliament elections, other internal and external problems), was discussed by Peter Balash, Director of the Center for European Neighborhood Studies at Central European University (CEP), Corina Stratulat, Head of European Politics and Institutions programme and Senior Policy Analyst at the Brussels think tank European Policy Centre – EPC, and Tomasz Żornaczuk, Head of the Central Europe Programme at the Polish Institute of International Affairs.
Participants agreed that the progress of the countries in the region is slow, especially in the areas of democracy, rule of law, good governance, economic development, and good neighbourly relations, which are more or less the same problems shared by all the countries of the Western Balkans. Thomas Schieb, Ambassador of Germany to Serbia, Adnan Ćerimagić, a researcher from Sarajevo European Stability Initiative, Gjergji Vurmo, Program Director of the Institute for Democracy and Mediation (IDM) from Tirana, and Simonida Kacarska, Director of the Institute for European Politics (EPI), talked about how to overcome this issue. Mr Schieb emphasized that Germany’s support to the enlargement process is unambiguous, but that countries have to meet all the conditions and that there will not be any shortcuts.
“The European Union is currently not in its best shape,” he said, “I agree with that. Therefore, the enlargement policy does not have the magic it had before. But we are working daily to improve this situation so that Europe emerges again as a great example of how a modern society should function,” the ambassador said.
The gathering was closed by Srđan Majstorović, President of the CEP Governing Board, and Mateja Norčić-Štamcar, Deputy Head of the EU Delegation to Serbia. Mr Majstorović reminded of the importance of credibility in the accession process
“The EU does not send membership invitations – we asked for it ourselves and we started this path. Let’s then, when we have already asked for it ourselves, prove that we are credible in our intention. The question is: Are we honest – first of all, to ourselves, when it comes to the enlargement process and what we want from this process? “Mr Majstorovic concluded.
The conference was jointly organized by the European Policy Centre (CEP, Belgrade), the Austro-French Centre for Rapprochement in Europe (CFA / ÖFZ), the Centre International de Formation Européenne (CIFE, Nice / Berlin), supported and in cooperation with the Open Regional Funds South- East Europe – Promotion of European Integration (German Cooperation – GIZ), Institut français des relations internationales (IFRI, Paris), Istituto Affari Internazionali (IAI, Rome), the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP, Brussels) and the European Commission (Erasmus + program).