CSOs from WB and EU issued a Declaration on Zagreb EU-Western Balkans Summit

EU - Western Balkans informal meeting, February 2020; Foto: European Union

WESTERN BALKANS – Ahead of the EU-Western Balkans Summit in Zagreb, where the leaders of EU member states and Western Balkan states will meet under the Croatian presidency of the EU Council to discuss a new perspective for WB states to become EU members on 6 May, Croatian civil society under the coordination of CROSOL, and NGOs from the region decided to deliver the message of the civil society to the leaders through the CSO Declaration on Zagreb EU-Western Balkans Summit “With or Without (E)U?” to ensure that the voice of CSOs is included.

More than 90 leading CSOs urge in their declaration that heads of states or governments of the European Union members states and of the Western Balkan countries to intensify and accelerate the negotiation and implementation of the reforms in the process of aligning with the acquis communautaire, especially in the fields of fundamental rights and freedoms, the judiciary, the rule of law, and democratic institutions.

“The Western Balkan countries should commit to genuine implementation of the reforms in order to achieve lasting institutional and social change, while the European Union should be principled in assessing the progress. Special attention should be put on enhancing the cooperation between the countries related to the fate of missing persons, strengthening cooperation and increasing efficiency of prosecution of war crimes, and supporting other transitional justice initiatives, especially the ones stemming from civil society, like RECOM”, reads the declaration stating that this is one of the prerequisites in building trust between states and societies in the Western Balkans.

It is added that at the same time, any delays or postponements by the EU in dealing with issues of rule of law, human rights and democracy within its member states have extremely negative consequences on the democratization process of all Western Balkan countries and that as a result, they expect the EU to demonstrate its commitment to its fundamental values – not only through symbolic general statements, but through concrete actions.

CSOs also expect the EU to urge and support authorities in Bosnia and Herzegovina to promptly implement the 14 priorities of the European Commission’s Opinion published in May 2019.

“In an open and consultative process with civil society and the EU Delegation to BiH, the Council of Ministers of BiH should adopt a new Action Plan for the Implementation of the EC’s Opinion Priorities to target and focus on issues related to democracy building, establishing the rule of law, and protecting human rights. The EU should send a clear message that candidate status is possible, achievable and contingent on BiH taking concrete steps in implementing the EC Opinion’s 14 priorities”, adding that BiH cannot be left behind in the EU integration process of the Western Balkans, but it must show commitment and deliver reforms as part of this process.

Declarations states that the EU should start genuine cooperation with civil society organizations from the Western Balkan countries in designing and implementing reforms, and support CSOs, both financially and politically in their efforts in supporting democracy and rule of law reforms.

“The European Union should continue to rely on information from civil society organizations when assessing the effects of the reforms and avoid any political tendency which brings no constructive debate at the domestic level and with the EU enlargement process. Pro forma simulations and proclamations of enlargement reforms, but without concrete and substantial changes implemented by governments should be disclosed as such and politically condemned”, reads the Declaration.

It is also stated that Western Balkan countries should be included as beneficiaries in post-COVID-19 response programs targeting economic and social recovery, and in particular in the European Green New Deal plans, because the role of civil society in the relief of the crisis should not be undermined, but instead facilitated and supported.

The role of CSOs in the EU enlargement process

Civil society organizations from the Western Balkans should be represented at the Conference on the Future of Europe, stressed CSOs in the declaration.