TIRANA – Civil Society Forum of the Western Balkans Summit Series is taking place in Tirana. The event began on Wednesday with an opening reception and conference where the welcome speech was given by the organizers and supporters of the forum. Among the speakers, the key speaker was Ditmir Bushati, Albanian Minister of Foreign Affairs who spoke on the Berlin Process and reflected on it through dilemma – low-hanging fruits vs. strategic engagement.
The first working day was used to discuss and prepare recommendations for the Trieste Summit that will take place in July as the fourth meeting of the leaders of the Western Balkans within the Berlin Process.
After the keynote address “Role of Civil Society in the Western Balkans Process, and in the Trieste Summit”, participated by Michele Giacomelli, Special Envoy of Italian MFA on the Berlin Process, the participants of the forum discussed on four topics – Youth cooperation in WB6, Rule of Law and Anti-Corruption, Business Environment and Innovation Potential in WB6: Role of SMEs, and Bilateral Issues.
Speaking about youth cooperation in the Western Balkans the participants discussed what structures and resources that are needed to enable stable and long-term youth cooperation in the region, is RYCO enough or is it just a first step. The issues that are discussed are covering topics such as how is the support provided by the regional governments for youth and how to make it better, what more could be done to improve youth mobility within the region, how could youth cooperation help prevention of rise of nationalism and racialization and can youth cooperation improve socio-economic situation in the region.
Panel discussion on law and anti-corruption covered questions such as what are the biggest challenges for the rule of law in the Western Balkans, how to overcome ubiquitous principle of implementing technical and not substantive reforms, how to improve the EU’s strategy towards the Western Balkans and its approach to the rule of law issues, what more could be done to improve regional cooperation in fight against corruption and organized crime, how to secure the unbiased and impersonal application of the law and prevent further politicization of the process, and what are the directions for securing the meaningful role of civil society in monitoring and evaluating the rule of law reform.
The third panel for a topic had a title “Business Environment and Innovation Potential in WB6: Role of SMEs”. The participants of the forum discussed on issues such as how can CSOs put more focus on economic and trade relationships among the WB countries in high-level state meetings, what structures and support mechanisms can spur development of entrepreneurial initiatives especially in cross-border cooperation in culture and creative industries. What changes can we make to our regulatory and tax framework to enable innovation and entrepreneurial action especially among unemployed youth, how can CSOs improve access to finance for region’s most prosperous SMEs and social enterprises, and how to use common cultural heritage and similarities to spur innovation and cross-border collaboration that could lead to substantial economic gains for all parties involved.
The last panel was on bilateral issues and the questions discussed on it were how to prevent a further deterioration of bilateral issues and good-neighbourly relations in the region and reverse the negative trends, can the EU and it member states do more to assist in resolving outstanding bilateral issues and improve regional cooperation and good-neighbourly relation, while acknowledging that the primary responsibility lies with the countries of the region. They also discussed what should be the role of the civil society in this process, can the civil society contribute toward creating a more positive environment and public opinion to settle bilateral issues, should there be a prioritization of particular types of disputes/issues within the Berlin Process, and what types of bilateral issues are best dealt with using the Berlin Process as a platform.
After the discussions, participants were divided into four parallel working groups on each topic to identify the recommendations for the Western Balkans Summit in Trieste. The recommendations are going to be presented tomorrow, during the second working day of the Civil Society Forum in Tirana.
For quotes of the participants from the working panels, you can use following hashtags on twitter – #csftirana and #wbcsf. European Western Balkans will publish the interviews in the following days with Ditmir Bushati, Albanian MFA and Michaele Giacomelli, Special Envoy of Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Berlin Process.