When discussing the current state of affairs in the Berlin Process and its immediate future, one must look back at the origins of the initiative. It was born in times when Enlargement process, speaking with the language of runners, hit the wall: fatigue set in, both in candidate countries – to continue difficult reforms at home, and in member-states – to admit new members in times of growing challenges.
In addition, the negotiation process became stricter and it was re-designed to tackle the core issues first – judicial reform and fundamental rights and justice, freedom and security, all notoriously difficult to reform in the Balkans. Furthermore, there were political blockages of the process as well. Finally, new players have emerged in the region. Investments and funding for big infrastructure projects – much needed in the Balkans – were more readily available with little or no strings attached.
Berlin Process was born therefore to keep the European perspective alive, by delivering immediate and tangible results, to protect the acquis of the pre-accession process, by consolidating the achievements and renewing the commitment for reforms, to contain the outside influence, by providing financing to key connectivity projects and to boost the regional co-operation, by enhancing and adding new features notably by including civil society and the youth.
One should not underestimate the political message sent by the EU member-states involved in the process – that integration of the Balkans matters and that enhanced cooperation is an added value, be it in the transport and energy or in security, migration flows, fight against terrorism and cross-border crime.
Berlin Process should be hence seen, as it is the case with the regional cooperation, as an important tool of European integration. Or rather, as a driver for change – a result-oriented change, by pursuing the same goals of the European integration process with greater focus and commitment in areas key for growth – investments in connectivity coupled with soft measures, enhanced regional economic cooperation and improved political stability by resolution of outstanding issues, both bilaterally and domestically, and by reconciliation within and between the societies in the region.
Since 2014, Berlin Process provided new dynamics in the Western Balkans and between the region and the EU member-states involved. It delivered concrete outputs – political, economic and in the social cooperation process. The process gave birth to numerous new regional initiatives such as Regional Youth Cooperation Office, Chamber Investment Forum and Western Balkans Research Foundation; new funds were agreed upon such as the Green for Growth Fund, Western Balkans Fund and Western Balkans Enterprise Development and Innovation Facility; soft measures have been added – on energy, on transport, on fighting corruption, on security; many transport and energy investment projects have also been agreed upon; forward looking documents were also adopted: on regional electricity market, on energy efficiency, on Regional Economic Area, Digital Agenda and solution to illicit small arms and light weapons. Finally, it added new layers of inclusive cooperation in the Balkans with involvement of the civil society and the youth.
Poznan Summit gave further impetus to the Regional Economic Integration, notably by setting forward an automatic recognition model for higher education qualifications, by laying foundations for establishment of regional research cooperation hub, development of capital markets and paving the way for an ambitious Green Agenda. Eight new connectivity investment projects were added to the existing 31 already approved and an agreement was reached on development of the regional rail strategy in the Western Balkans. Leaders reiterated their commitments with regard to people-to-people connectivity, good-neighbourly relations, reconciliation and security.
The Berlin Process is now in its second four-year term. Undoubtedly relevant and proving its utility, it continues to be the driver for change in the Balkans and to be catalyst for greater cooperation within the region and between the Region and the EU member-states.
This year offers fresh possibility, since for the first time since 2014, the Berlin Process will be co-chaired by two countries – by North Macedonia and Bulgaria in 2019/2020. This co-chairing, by one EU Member state and one state from the region paves a way for further closer cooperation between the Region and the EU. It is at the same time a recognition for the contribution of both countries to the regional cooperation and stability, and by entrusting the co-chairmanship to North Macedonia, it signals the move towards greater ownership of the process. Both countries are already consulting with regard to the priorities of the Berlin Process in the year ahead.
While it is still subject to further discussions with the partners in the EU and in the Balkans, it is clear now that the programme and priorities will be marked by continuity both with regard to the substance and to the formats of cooperation. The aim is to give further impetus in achieving the goals of the Process, by result-oriented methodology that will further galvanise regional cooperation among all categories of participants and close the gaps between the region and the EU.
In conclusion, Berlin Process as a platform for high-level cooperation proved to be vector and catalyst of both the European integration of the Western Balkans countries and regional cooperation. It contributes to the growth and stability in the Balkans and will continue to do so in the years to come, by consolidating hard and soft measures and by adding new layers of inclusive cooperation in response to the fast-developing context.
By keeping the result-oriented focus and its relevance in face of the new challenges it will ideally complement candidate and potential-candidate countries’ efforts to achieve the European Union membership goal by assisting them in building more stable, secure and prosperous societies based on the principles of democracy, the rule of law and respect and promotion of human rights.
Toni Pavloski is a participant at the conference Move.Link.Engage, organized by the Belgrade Open School with the support of The Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency.