TIRANA – The two-day Fourth Tirana Connectivity Forum started yesterday. It is organized by Cooperation and Development Institute and supported by Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, Friedrich Ebert Stiftung and Hanns Seidel Stiftung in Albania. The event is gathering benchmark of experts, researchers, academics, CSO and policymakers involved in EU enlargement, regional cooperation and connectivity dynamics in Western Balkans
During the welcoming address, Walter Glos, Head of Albanian Office of Konrad Adenauer Foundation said that Berlin Process could be better if the leaders of the Western Balkans didn’t argue so much about the past, present and future and instead focused on finding common solution and solving of problems. “Connectivity projects create a foundation for growth and movement of people”, he added.
Wulf Lapins, Head of Office of Friedrich Foundation Albania, presented current European and regional projects in the energy sector and energy politics, while Ardiann Hackaj, Director of Research in the Cooperation and Development Institute, talked about the Berlin Process and said that its biggest achievement is bringing attention of the European Union to the region and increasing EU financial assistance and political contacts.
“My general observation is that we are connected whether we like it or not”, said Knut Fleckenstein, Member of European Parliament, about relations between the European Union and the Western Balkans during his keynote address. In his opinion, the biggest achievement of the Berlin Process is a very valuable contribution to increasing connectivity in the region, but more must be done to fully realize potential of the whole region. “I see no alternative to the EU membership of the Western Balkans”, he concluded.
Youth: How to connect them to the home country?
Youth panel, which was moderated by Dafina Peci, Executive Director of National Youth Congress in Albania, covered side effects of connectivity, particularly brain drain, which is affecting the whole region. All the panelists agreed that it is one of the biggest issues of the Western Balkans.
Deputy Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs of Albania, Mr. Etjen Xhafay, said that, since Albania has a large diaspora, issue of youth leaving the country represents a development challenge. He added that Albania has one of the largest pools of economists and lawyers in the world but lacks people with technical skills. One of the challenges is to make more success stories and opportunity for young people.
“A lot of surveys show that youths are leaving the Balkan countries, or they plan to leave, because lack of hope in the future”, said Kejdi Mehmetaj, Member of the Albanian Parliament. She added that this lack of hope is connected to political system which doesn’t work. In her opinion, the key to fixing it is “involvement of youngsters”.
Mak Selimović, head of the Bosnia and Herzegovina Association for the United Nations, expressed her opinion that increasing the involvement of youth in all stages of policy making is one of the things that need to be done.
Speaking about youth in the Berlin Process, Secretary General of the Bled Strategic Forum Peter Grk said: “We started talking about the involvement of youth when we realized that enlargement agenda has only been discussed by the old people. Young people lost hope. Involvement of the young people in the Berlin Process stayed only on paper and it’s still work in progress”.
Andan Ćerimagić from European Stability Initiative factually explained the trend of rapid increase in young people leaving Western Balkans to work and live in the EU. In his opinion, it is important to develop better policies that will improve lives of the people staying in the region. This can be achieved through usage of data in policymaking and then considering all opinions.
Transport: Adjustment Costs and Governance Challenges
Panel about transport focused on challenges of building road and railways in the Balkans, as well as governance challenges met during their implementation. That’s why, according to Eduard Shalsi, Chairman of Albanian Parliamentary Committee on Production Activities, Trade and Environment, building professional and competent institutions in transport sector is as important as building new roads and railways. “Albania inherited a system with no investment, data, lack of decision making and institutions on infrastructure investments. Now the investment is oriented towards the sectors with more potential like infrastructures in the south of Albania with high touristic opportunity”, he pointed out.
Speaking about role of the EU in economy and transport infrastructure of the Western Balkan countries, Martin Henze, Chairman of the transport Commission of the Economic Council of the CDU, said that “creation of Special Economic Areas should be encouraged in parallel to the infrastructure networks that connect them”.
He concluded that the EU needs comprehensive economic strategy in which the Balkans will take their place in regard to economic model and infrastructure investment. Stephen Stork of the EU Delegation in Albania pointed out six Strategic Priorities that focus on connectivity.
Energy: Regional Cooperation and Good Governance
This panel focused on regional cooperation and its challenges in area of regional policymaking in energy sector and in area of implementation of large projects in Western Balkans, as well on Western Balkans as the energy security provider for South Europe.
Minister for Economic Development of Kosovo, Valdrin Lluka opened debate by explaining the problem that Kosovo has with Serbia in energy sector. Electric transmission lines of Kosovo are not working, because they are managed by Serbia and on top of that North Kosovo is not paying bills. This is a great problem for Kosovo, because it generates a great deal of financial losses, and it is a problem for region as well. “Together, as whole region, we must put a pressure on Serbia to let go of some things”, he added.
Dirk Buchle, Deputy Director of the Energy Community Secretariat in Vienna, said that there is about 43% compliance of the Western Balkans energy legislation with the EU’s. In order to increase hat percentage, Western Balkans countries needs to work more on the governance.
“Basis of economic growth is electricity, and therefore the Balkan electricity market integration is the future”, said Fabio Tambone from the Italian Regulatory Authority for Energy Networks and Environment. He pointed out that the Western Balkan countries are trying to work together despite problems in relations.