Western Balkans Perspectives on the Future of Europe: Belgrade

On May 19th, FES Dialogue Southeast Europe, FES Belgrade, and the Austro-French Centre for Rapprochement in Europe organized the fourth focus group discussion in the Western Balkans Perspectives on the Future of Europe series. The Belgrade event was also the first focus group in 2021. It took place at the Dorćol Platz, gathering academics, journalists, politicians, activists, and other opinion-makers alike from Serbia.

The event was opened by welcoming remarks from Dr. Max Brändle (FES Belgrade), Dr. Florent Marciacq (Austro-French Centre for Rapprochement in Europe), and Harun Cero (FES SOE). The focus group was followed by a panel discussion to present the findings to the international community representatives in Belgrade. The debate in the focus groups was kicked off and moderated by strategic facilitators of the program, Jovana Spremo (Lawyers' Committee for Human Rights), Jovana Marović (Politikon Network), and Igor Bandović (Belgrade Centre for Security Policy).

Like the rest of our events in the WB Perspectives series, the participants were divided into two groups. The discussion aimed to single out possible contributions that the region could make to the making of Europe and reform of the Union. Both discussion groups had the task of discussing two questions:

-What should the European Union that the WB6 countries like to join be about, and what should it seek to achieve?

-What distinct contributions could the WB6 make towards advancing the European project? How can their membership strengthen the Union?

The participants from both focus groups also pondered what would happen if there is a lack of willingness to integrate the Western Balkans countries into the EU? They argued that the EU is still vulnerable to particular influences that are damaging within the Union itself. Furthermore, one way to strengthen the EU abroad and in the WB region is to become a "champion of democracy" as a whole.

Some of the speakers argued that the European Union was built for 'peaceful and good times, but that now the Union has to gear up to be an anchor for all European countries and countries joining the Union. As the speakers argued, change starts with a vision, and they expressed their concerns that this common vision for the EU lacks at the moment. They compared this case with that of the US, where the negotiations within the society and politics about a 'new deal' for the country lasted 250 years. Without a 'new deal' for the European Union, the speakers argued, it will be challenging to move forward regarding further integration of the Union. One of the ways to get a shared vision of the EU is, in their opinion, through the re-evaluation of the economic integration. With all difficulties in mind, the participants still agreed that the future of the Western Balkans lies within the EU.

The second part of the event, the panel discussion, focused on presenting the conclusions of the two focus groups and discussing them with  H.E. Sem Fabrizi,  Ambassador and Head of Delegation of the European Union to the Republic of Serbia, and Knut Fleckenstein, a former Member of the European Parliament from Germany. Mr. Fabrizi and Mr.Fleckenstein concluded that enlargement is not a process that should be led by technocrats but brave politicians. In their opinion, the question is not if the Western Balkans countries will one day join the European club, but when and how. The overall impression was that the Western Balkans should have had a common window in the Conference of the Future of Europe.

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