Western Balkans Civil Society Forum Paris

The Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, together with partners from all over Europe, has been an integral part of the Civil Society dimension of the Berlin Process. On the fringes of the Western Balkans Summit in Paris, the FES put special emphasis on a Citizens’ Summit which tackled key questions from democratization to migration and the future of solidarity in Europe.

Within the frame of the “Berlin Process”, an initiative started by the German Government in 2014, the WB6 (Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia) are meeting once a year with six EU member states: Germany, France, Italy, Croatia, Austria and Slovenia; as well as the European Commission and international finance organizations.

“Connectivity” was a buzzword of the Summit. There was a promise for funds for regional infrastructure and energy-investment, as well as the official establishment of a regional youth cooperation office (RYCO), which should be viewed as a success as it managed to circumvent the diverse diplomatic cliffs for regional cooperation in the Balkans.

A view behind the scenes however, relativizes the impression of flourishing regional cooperation. Only a couple of weeks prior to the Summit, the European Commission publicly expressed their frustration that the governments in the region have undertaken little to none effort in order to venture into joint infrastructure projects.

The Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, together with partners from all over Europe, has been an integral part of the Civil Society dimension of this process since the Vienna Summit in 2015. In Paris, the FES put special emphasis on a Citizens’ Summit on the future of solidarity in the European Union, which was held in parallel to the meeting of Heads of State and Government. 

The Civil Society Forum also included a block on political and social struggles in the Western Balkan Countries, where protests such as the recent anti-government protests in Macedonia were discussed. The Citizen summit recognized that, in a time of increasing authoritarian tendencies and a crisis of legitimacy in many political institutions, democratic resilience is found more and more at the grass roots level.

At a panel including Austrian foreign minister Sebastian Kurz, and the French Secretary of State for European Affairs, Harlem Désir, critical voices were also heard on the topic of the “closing of the Balkan route“.

Contrary to established perception, volunteers along the route report the real numbers of refugees had barely decreased. The official numbers were in decline, simply because people fleeing were not being registered anymore. The main profiteer in this situation was the criminal industry, i.e. the very same smuggling rings, whom the proponents of a security partnership with Western Balkans governments have vowed to root out.

The Civil Society Forum concluded with the formulation of ideas and recommendations from engaged citizens and Members of the European Parliament:

  • The creation of secure and legal migration corridors through the Balkan states and a complete adherence to international law and human rights, including the right to asylum;
  • Democracy as a condition for sustainable stability: opening of accession negotiations in Chapters 23 and 24 (justice, basic rights and corruption) in all the states of the region;
  • The creation of a special EU-Envoy who will facilitate the resolving of bilateral conflicts in the states of the western Balkans, and the inclusion of the bordering states: Bulgaria, Romania and Greece into the format of the summit.
  • The expansion of the ERASMUS+ Program onto the entire region; the inclusion of Slovenia and Croatia into the regional youth network;
  • Completion of the newly adopted 5 million Euro coal energy projects in southeastern Europe and support for the implementation of the “Western Balkans Sustainability Charter”.

Related links:

Civil Society Forum of the Western Balkans Summit Series - Paris 2016

Civil Society Forum of the Western Balkans - Paris 2016 - Conclusions and Recommendations

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