The Berlin Process: What worked and what did not work?

European flags in front of EP Building in Strasbourg; Photo: European Parliament

BELGRADE – The Berlin Process has achieved noteworthy results in the Western Balkans, especially in the areas in which the goals are clearly defined and for which there is a clear political interest, it is stated in the brief “The Berlin Process: What worked and what did not work? And why?” of the Institute for Democracy “Societas Civilis”, the Open Society Foundation for Albania and the EU Policy Hub, supported by the European Fund for the Balkans.

The countries of the Western Balkans are facing numerous socioeconomic challenges, such as poor governance and high unemployment, and to reach the EU average in the next 15 years, they must grow at least twice as fast as at present, it is estimated in the brief.

Therefore, the Berlin Process, intergovernmental initiative, is launched – to focus the attention of the EU to the Western Balkans to help to resolve bilateral disputes, migration problems and strengthen the rule of law, but also to ensure greater regional and youth cooperation.

Although European officials and Western Balkan officials in the past years said that the Berlin Process was an exceptional initiative, there was little evidence of what was really achieved, it was pointed out in the brief.

The Regional Office for Youth Cooperation (RYCO) – a regionally-owned organisation entirely dedicated to youth and youth cooperation, set up in a manner that can contribute towards overcoming past prejudices and nurturing an EU values-oriented mindset, is highlighted as the most tangible result of the Berlin Process.

Although it managed to connect all countries of the region, it is questionable how RYCO will implement youth policies, it is stated.

As the brief further explains, several elements have contributed to the positive perception of the RYCO, which is limited scope, clear timeline and precise implementation roadmaps, as well as the strong political interest, but also the fact that the RYCO represents a joint initiative of the region, both representatives of state and non-state actors.

However, there are several challenges regarding the establishment of the RYCO, such as breach of the principle of inclusiveness and transparency, since civil society “has not been consulted in defining priority areas”, nor the plan of activities for 2017 has been published.

Regarding the connectivity agenda, it is stated that it has been latently successful in supporting concrete cross-border and regional infrastructure projects, adding that it has also managed to change the mindset of politicians and administrations, and it started to persuade them that improving connectivity is crucial for future EU integrations.

Although the EU has allocated significant funds for projects that would improve the connectivity of the region, it is said that connectivity agenda has a “latent success”, or not as visible as the establishment of the RYCO, because the success of these projects can be only measured in medium-term.

As it was further explained in the brief, there has been made limited success in regional cooperation and solving bilateral disputes. Bearing in mind that the biggest success of the Western Balkans summit held in Vienna in 2015 was the signing of the Declaration on Regional Cooperation and the Solution of Bilateral Disputes, no significant success has been achieved in this area, although the political will for their solving was emphasised numerous of times.

“While some countries have made attempts to resolve issues like that of the border demarcation between Montenegro and Kosovo, the fact remains that the only notable success in this policy area has been the finalisation of the Bosnia and Herzegovina – Montenegro border dispute,” it was emphasised the brief.

What is considered as the important precondition for resolving disputes is a political interest, and it is becoming increasingly difficult to find solutions in the environment in which authoritarianism is growing, which is “fuelled by the return of populism and nationalism.”

In the conclusion, it is said that the greatest success was made in those areas whose goals are clearly defined, whose challenges are not politically sensitive, with addition that the most vital part of the Berlin Process is that “political elites from the region have understood that the only way forward is to cooperate and progress as a region.”