Western Balkans Perspectives on the Future of Europe: Podgorica

On June 17th, the Western Balkans Perspectives on the Future of Europe series continued in Podgorica. The event was again organized by FES Dialogue Southeast Europe, FES Belgrade, and the Austro-French Centre for Rapprochement in Europe.

The gathering 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 discussions were kicked-off and moderated by strategic facilitators of the program, Jovana Marović (Politikon Network), Radoš Mušović (Fellow at German Marshall Fund of the United States), Donika Emini (CiviKos Platform), and Rasim Ibrahimagić (FES BiH).

The event consisted out of two parts. The first part was the focus group discussion, which gathered academics, journalists, politicians, activists, and other opinion-makers from Montenegro. This segment was followed by a panel discussion, where the conclusions from the first part of the event were presented to the Head of Delegation of the European Union to Montenegro, Ms. Oana-Cristina Popa, and the adviser to the Deputy Prime Minister in the Government of Montenegro Dritan Abazović, Mr. Luka Rakčević.

Following the methodology from the previous events from the series, the participants were divided into two groups. The discussion aimed to single out possible contributions of the Western Balkans to the making of Europe and reform of the Union. Both discussion groups deliberated two questions:

-What should the European Union, that the WB6 countries would 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 perception of most of the focus group participants was that the Western Balkans has a vision of the region as a part of the European, but that it does not seem that the EU shares this vision of the WB countries. Again, like the conclusions from Belgrade, the question remains of a willingness within the EU to enlarge. On the other hand, it was concluded that the EU had invested a lot of resources and effort to enhance the democratic process in the region, but that we are witnessing a continuous democratic backsliding in all the WB countries.

Some speakers concluded that citizens of the region need to see more clearly why the rule of law is so crucial for the development, and this needs to be reflected in the new enlargement methodology. Discussants noted that citizens should also have more benefits from the enlargement process itself. As participants stated, some EU countries could learn from Montenegro and others and adopt certain practices from them, for example, the constitutional phrasing that states “Montenegro is the country of all its citizens.”

The participants of the focus groups and Ambassador Popa afterward concluded that the European Union is not complete without the Western Balkans. The leaders and the societies of the countries must commit more to achieve that goal.  Ambassador Popa also spoke about the EU’s ability to present itself and promote its work in the region. She stated that the countries in the region need to rely more on themselves to solve problems within the countries and not expect the EU and other foreign actors to solve them. Nonetheless, she highlighted that the countries in the region will always have a friend in the EU and that the Union is always ready to help where it can.

The Western Balkans Perspectives on the Future of Europe series will continue with events in Pristina and Tirana by the end of 2021.

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