Western Balkans Perspectives on the Future of Europe: Skopje

On 22nd of September, the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung Dialogue Southeast Europe hosted the first in person focus groups and a fishbowl discussion in“Western Balkans Perspectives on the Future of Europe“ series. After many months of virtual gatherings, this event was set up in Skopje, with the help of Friedrich Ebert Stiftung in North Macedonia and our partners from the Austro-French Centre for Rapprochement in Europe.

The event gathered overall around 20 participants from think-tanks, civil society, activists, and youth representatives, who were divided into two focus groups, each discussing the same two questions:
-         What should the European Union, that the WB6 countries would like to join, be about and seek to achieve?
-         What distinct contributions could the WB6 countries make to advancing the European project or how might their membership strengthen the Union?

The first group was moderated by Anida Šabanović (Foreign Policy Initiative BiH) and Viktor Mitevski (Association for research and analysis ZMAI), concluded that the EU itself has internal problems that directly / indirectly affect the WB6, especially in the integration process. Hence, as concluded, it is necessary to keep the motivation among the candidate countries so that they can have EU membership as a vision. For the citizens of the Western Balkans, the EU is a friend and an alliance which they share common interests with. The key areas in which they see possible support and prosperity within the EU are economic development and security.

On the other hand, when discussing the second question, the participants of the focus group I agreed that the countries of the Western Balkans can serve as an example of practices that strengthen the community and common interests, instead of the very common policies, that are based on individual interests.

The priority of the member states at the moment is the individual right and interest, but the new trends show that this approach should be changed and directed towards the collective rights. Examples for the dysfunctional common polities because of individual interests are the current COVID-19 pandemic and climate policies.

The second group, moderated by Lura Pollozhani (Centre for South-East European Studies - University of Graz) and Florent Marciacq (Austro-French Centre for Rapprochement in Europe), concluded that there clearer criteria need to be put forward, to be met and for the countries to gain the right of becoming a member of the EU, with all the benefits that potentially follow. Especially interesting was the youth perspective that shows the youth want to experience the practicality that the EU offers, which is evident in educational programs, cultural exchanges, and a functional system.

The second part of the event, the open fishbowl discussion, opened the floor for sharing the conclusions of the two focus-groups with other participants. The fishbowl-discussion was, among others, attended by the former minister for Diaspora in North Macedonia, Edmond Ademi. Ademi underlined the importance of diaspora from WB6, for achieving advancement in the European project and bringing the countries closer to the EU.

The “Western Balkans Perspectives on the Future of Europe“ will continue 2020 with focus groups discussions in Sarajevo, due to take place on the 20th of November.

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