London; Photo: Pixabay

The London Summit of the Berlin Process will be held on 9-10 July 2018 in the UK capital. It will represent the fifth Summit within the Berlin Process after Berlin (2014), Vienna (2015), Paris (2016) and Trieste (2017).

Even though the London Summit was supposed the be the last Summit within the Berlin Process according to the original framework, it was unclear whether the UK government will in fact host the Summit at the time of Brexit negotiations. The UK government, however, decided to follow its commitment and host this year’s Summit in London, and in the meantime the Berlin Process framework was expanded to include more Summits in the future, with Poland being the next designated host in 2019.

The fact that the UK, which is currently in the process of leaving the EU, is hosting a Summit concerned with EU enlargement in the Western Balkans might seem paradoxical, but experts are convinced that this proves that the UK is still interested in the region.

Marika Djolai, conflict, peace and development consultant and member of the Balkans in Europe Policy Advisory Group (BiEPAG), reminds that Brexit is not reflecting everyone’s position in the UK and that there is no unified stance on it by the UK government, establishment and citizens.

As she explains, “notwithstanding the fact that only half of those who voted were pro-Brexit, there are deep divisions in the junior and senior ranks of the governing Conservatives, and the Labour, while the party that effectively led the country to Brexit (UKIP) does not exist anymore”.

According to Djolai, “the Summit organization is a way for the UK to establish itself in the Balkans and initiate bilateral relations with the region where it has interests, but it is not yet clear what they are.”

“The UK certainly would like to maintain its influence there, but also with some of the member states, key players in the Balkans (e.g. Germany). For this reason, it was more beneficial for the UK to organise the Summit than to pull out”, says Djolai.

According to her, the British have “included Poland, the next Summit host, in some of the activates already, and made an action plan with Austria (holding EU presidency from 1 July 2018) for actives until the end of the year, e.g. support for bilateral disputes resolution.”

Asked about the focus of this year Summit, Djolai explains that it will focus on three topics: Security (counter-terrorism and countering weapons trafficking, countering corruption and organised immigration crime), Economic stability (digital), and Political and legacy issues (missing persons, war crimes and gender equality). According to her, “the business component of the Summit will be left out, as instead there was a meeting of the economy ministers in Vienna at the UK Embassy 2 days ago.”

“Security is most prominent for the UK, in the context if their future role in the Western Balkans”, explains Djolai.

More prominent role for the civil society in London?

The Civil Society Forum – Preparation of the London Summit; Photo: Embassy of the UK in Austria

The civil society representatives from the Western Balkans will once again join the decision-makers within the Summits of the Berlin Process, but this time with a more prominent role and more opportunities to influence the agenda of the Summit.

Ana Marjanović Rudan, Programme Advisor at the European Fund for the Balkans and coordinator of the Civil Society Forum of the Berlin Process, explains that even though the civil society is by design an inherent part of the Berlin Process, “it was not until this year that it was so systemically and comprehensively included in the preparations of the content of the London Summit”.

“The Civil Society Forum of the Berlin Process, as the platform coordinating the involvement of regional think tanks and policy-oriented organisations in the Process, prepared policy documents – CSF Policy Briefs – as background papers and policy recommendations, which fed the London Summit preparations during Spring, and were highly welcomed by the Foreign Office, the Summit’s host”, explains Marjanović Rudan.

According to her, “the inclusiveness of the process of preparations of the CSF Policy Briefs, as well as the expertise and the field knowledge offered in them was highly welcomed by the London hosts, and the papers became part of the official documentation of the Summit.”

Asked about the main topics which will be discussed by the civil society and the civil society with foreign ministers of Western Balkan countries, Marjanović Rudan says that “since a larger group of the regional civil society representatives will take part in the meeting with the WB6 foreign ministers in London, and since the representatives of the youth will also be included”, she believes “that this will be more of a ceremonial opportunity to bring to focus the youth and discuss the perspectives of the Berlin Process in general.”

“The true impact and contribution of the civil society have already taken place through provision of the very concrete contributions, not only in the form of the CSF Policy Briefs, but also in numerous analyses prepared by other groups and think tanks, offering their views on the process’s future and possibilities”, explains Marjanović Rudan.

“I also believe that the gathering that will take place in London will be an opportunity for the civil society to bring up the topics that are not on the Summit’s agenda, but that the civil society has been indicating as key regional issues – such as the rule of law, media freedom, migrations and green topics.”, says the CSF coordinator.

“Even if this does not happen, the Civil Society Forum of the Berlin Process will in the coming months focus its attention to these issues, from the regional point of view and make sure to bring them to the attention of the regional decision-makers”, concludes Marjanović Rudan.

Marika Djolai agrees that the civil society gained a much more prominent role in this Summit than has been the case before.

“The UK has done a very wide consultation process with everyone in the region, the team has travelled extensively and organised number of meetings and activities – we never had this before”.

As Djolai explains, the British are “organising the civil society forum and they involved CSOs from the region in the consultations and preparation of the Summit agenda. They participated in some of the activates organised by the CSOs in the region throughout the year.”

“There will be a formal meeting and interactive discussion between the CSOs and the government officials of the WB countries (all sitting on the same floor)”, says Djolai.

Berlin Process: Breakthrough for civil society participation?

Policy Discussion; Photo: European Union

CSF coordinator Ana Marjanović Rudan considers that “the involvement of the civil society in the Berlin Process was a breakthrough for civic participation at the regional level”

“The concept of civic participation in policy processes is a novel one even at the level of local communities or at the level of individual countries, while at the regional level the political processes are even harder to penetrate from the point of view of the civil society. The Berlin Process put in focus the importance of consultations with expert community and with activist organisations, and the fact that a social consensus created through their participation in policy processes provides stable environment for implementation of reforms”, explains Marjanović Rudan.

“So, yes, the civil society is indeed becoming a more important actor in the Berlin Process, which also opens doors to civil society’s contribution to other fora where political decisions pertaining to the region as a whole are being brought”, concludes the CSF coordinator.

According to Jovana Marović, Executive Director of Politikon and member of the Balkans in Europe Policy Advisory Group (BiEPAG), the preparation of this year’s summit has been marked by a different approach in securing the civil society’s participation and its contribution.

“For example, policy briefs and recommendations prepared under the Civil Society Forum’s umbrella became part of the official documentation of the Summit”, says Marović.

Furthermore, as she explains, “the Berlin process, as complementary to the European integration process, is increasingly used by the civil society from the region in its efforts to improve public policy and regional approach in dealing with them. The number of analysis and policy proposals prepared for the London summit is notable.”

“Civil society also insists that other important topics should be on the Berlin process’ agenda, such as the rule of law”, says Marović.

“The role of civil society, therefore, is recognized as significant and it is an important actor within the Berlin Process. Still, there is room for improving it, in particular the way of participation at the Summits, as well as through the monitoring of the undertaken commitments.”, concludes Marović.