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From Thessaloniki to Sofia and Beyond: Heading towards a Credible European Enlargement towards the Western Balkans?

ROME – Fifteen years since the Summit in Thessaloniki that has unequivocally confirmed the prospects of membership for the Western Balkan countries, a new EU Summit was held, this time in Sofia. The new strategy “A Credible Enlargement Perspective for and Enhanced EU Engagement with the Western Balkans“,  adopted by the Commission in February 2018, set out the way for Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia and Albania to finally join the Union until 2025.

This will be the main topic of the international conference “From Thessaloniki to Sofia and Beyond: Heading towards a Credible European Enlargement towards the Western Balkans?” which is organised by the Istituto Affari Internazionali (IAI) in cooperation with the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Neighborhood and Enlargement Negotiations and the European Fund for the Balkans.

As the EU is still struggling with a series of internal and external challenges (from managing the eurozone to migration management), some believe that it is not yet time to invest mass political capital in the renewed enlargement process. However, since 2015, EU players have gradually woken up again when it comes to the strategic importance of the Western Balkan countries, but without the strengthened and visible commitment of the EU, these countries could once again go astray, it is stated in the announcement.

The conference, which will be held in Rome on 6 June, brings together some of the prominent experts in this field, through three panels.

On the first panel entitled “The Commission’s Strategy for the Western Balkans: moving towards a credible integration”, some of the speakers are Miriyam Ferran (European Commission, DG NEAR), Srđan Majstorović (BiEPAG), Armando Barucco (Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of Italy). The panel will be moderated by Natalia Tocci from the Istituto Affari Internazionali (IAI).

The remaining two panels that will deal with topics such as politicizing the process of association and reforming democracy in order to cope with institutional fragility will speak Marko Kmezić (a lecturer at the University of Graz and a member of the Balkans in Europe Policy Advisory Group (BiEPAG)), Michele Giacomelli (Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of Italy) and Tobias Flessenkemper (European Institute CIFE). The last panel will moderate Igor Bandović from the European Fund for the Balkans, and speakers are Dane Taleski (Foreign Policy Advisor to the Prime Minister of Macedonia), Ardian Hackaj (Cooperation and Development Institute – CDI, Albania), Jovana Marović (Politikon network, Montenegro).

The event will be closed by the head of the European Commission Representation in Italy, Beatrice Covassi.

The expected impact of the event is to advance an understanding of the strategic win-win gains that the EU and the WP6 would get by recommitting to reform and cooperation.

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