European Western Balkans

Poznań Summit in retrospect: Notable successes and missed opportunities

Western Balkans Summit in Poznań; Photo: Flickr / Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Poland / Tymon Markowski / MSZ

In the era of enlargement – and EU integration-skepticism, slow or even dragging pace of EU accession negotiations as well as domestic reforms, and finally, missed opportunities to step up the process for those that deserved appraisal, the Poznań Summit held within “Berlin Process” in July 2019, and since 2014 in continuity, European Union representatives and Member States counterparts, for civil society to “meet” decision makers from both WB and EU, and for business and civil society to continue and deepen regional networking that is always happening even if sometimes bellow radar.

In addition, let us remember that the initial goal of the process was not to replace enlargement but to complement it, to support reforms and enhance regional cooperation. The countries in the region continue to have abundant bilateral and regional open issues and questions that are waiting for resolution and projects that are ready for further development.

It is also an opportunity for the Western Balkans to engage more with the countries that are not geographically or economically close to the region, but which does not mean they are not welcome partners in the European integration.

This is true also for Poland who has been keen supporter of the EU enlargement but for whom the whole of the WB is only 26th trading partner! Even if that is better than Canada as Minister Ms. Emilewicz optimistically noticed at the Poznań summit Opening Panel.

Polish hosts of this year’s Summit really invested considerable efforts in preparing and planning the summit, enriched it with Forum of cities and regions held one month before in Rzeszow, conducted wide and lengthy consultations with governments and civil society in the region. The result was program of the summit that included Think tank forum, Civil society forum, Business forum, Leaders and ministerial meetings as well as OECD set of debates and presentation about the trade and export potential in WB.

Besides connectivity which is the trend/buzz word within enlargement and Berlin process, economic development and growth, Poznań summit ended with Roma integration declaration and attempt to tackle environment and climate challenges with joint Statement on “Clean Energy Transition in the Western Balkans”. The European Commission also committed to support development of the Green Agenda for the WB. This is long due and let’s hope it will contribute to the inclusion of these exceptionally important topics in the agendas of WB political actors and to some deeds as well.

Connectivity has many facets. Besides infrastructure, digital and economic one, social connectivity is important dimension for sadly divided societies and countries in the Balkans. Facilitation of youth cooperation and exchanges and thus dialogue and understanding via RYCO is often cited as one of the achievements of the Berlin Process. But there are many other needs and aspects that deserve more attention.

Thus, I was happy to be able to present a paper on WB local communities’ role in the process of EU integration. The brief, developed thanks to the CSF of the European Fund for the Balkans, examines the role and capabilities of the local self-governments in terms of implementing EU legislation, absorption of EU funds and social/human dimension of European integration that needs to start and at the local level, as well as regional cooperation.

It provides for number of recommendations to the European and Balkan policy makers, but also builds on the ASB’s Social Dimension Initiative in the EU integration for WB that managed to gather in 2018 all social welfare ministers for the first time ever, organize mentoring support to 65 WB municipalities to develop regional social projects portfolio of 200 projects and show that there is genuine need to re-center European integration and regional cooperation approach towards local actors dealing with tangible issues and peoples’ problems.

This is crucial for transformation of our societies, but also for understanding and support to the EU integration which becomes more and more difficult task.

Three-day agenda of the Poznań forum and summit resulted in Chair’s conclusions that encompass everything already mentioned and in addition social entrepreneurship, regional reconciliation, smart specialization, youth, science, disinformation, anti-corruption, to name just few. This means that the conclusions reflect complexity and diversity of debates and participants that were present.

This is good to some extent and it would be advisable to focus on couple of outstanding issues and try to make progress in these, while other topics would have to be emphasized on future summits. It would be also good that difficult issues are among those few – like the rule of law and media freedom in the WB or EU enlargement strategy vs. EU consolidation.

Of course neither WB leaders feel there is anything wrong with the rule of law in their counties nor EU leaders feel there is anything wrong with their approach and messages in enlargement. Civil society usually disagrees with both. On the latter – some thoughts and proposals are available. On the rule of law – much has been said and will continue to dominate Balkans’ European perspectives until it is understood that this is the backbone for any kind of prosperous and democratic future in the region, not just EU integration.

Difficult political issues were of course not resolved nor thoroughly discussed in Poznań, but were again used for domestic publics during the summit. The format of the meetings and intention is also not intended for these solutions, but failing to use the opportunity to relax relations and start discussing open issues is always regrettable.

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