BERLIN – The EU should provide more funds to civil society in the Western Balkans, but it is up to the authorities of the region to come up with solutions to some of the burning problems, were some of the conclusions of the panel discussion entitled “Domestic reforms: Strengthening good governance and the inclusiveness of policy making” at the second day of the conference “Young people, migration and the demographic challenge in the Western Balkans”, organised by the German Federal Foreign Office, the Southeast Europe Association, and the Aspen Institute Germany.
Referring to some of the findings presented in the Regional Cooperation Council’s Balkan Barometer survey, Marko Kmezić, Senior Researcher at the Center for Southeast European Studies at the University of Graz and member of Balkans in Europe Policy Advisory Group (BiEPAG) said that corruption and migration are seen as some of the biggest problems that countries in the Western Balkans are dealing with at the moment.
“It leads us to understand that it is corruption and nepotism that are creating the ground for rising inequalities in the region” said Kmezić.
Genoveva Ruiz Calavera, Director for the Western Balkans at the Directorate-General for European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations (DG NEAR) of the European Commission, said that countries of the Western Balkans need to make sure that their objective to become EU member states translates into measurable reforms, but that, on the other hand, the EU also has to give clear guidelines to the region.
“After we put the revised methodology on the table in February, EU member states agreed in March to unblock and open accession talks with Albania and North Macedonia, which was a fantastic message for the whole region”, said Ruiz Calavera.
Kmezić said that, although the European Commission country reports for the Western Balkans rightfully mention the problem of captured states, what these reports lack is an idea how to improve the situation.
“The progress reports are falling short of providing a recipe in terms of clear benchmarks to be met, when we talk about the rule of law and democracy. Sometimes you cannot deal with governments and those elites that are capturing the state and its institutions, so putting on hold membership negotiations could be a favourable scenario”, said Kmezić.
According to Ruiz Calavera, the EU does have recommendations for the authorities of the Western Balkans, but that it is up to these authorities to find their own solutions and ways to implement these recommendations.
“There is no one-size-fits-all solution. What needs to be done with the rule of law in Bosnia and Herzegovina is slightly different than what needs to be done in Albania or Serbia. The civil society also has to play its role and provide support to state institutions in finding their solutions”, claimed Ruiz Calavera.
Ruiz Calavera said that the newly adopted Economic and Investment Plan aims to tackle the issue of mobility from the region by providing substantial financial help in investments to the region, which should give more opportunities for young people to stay in their countries.
“This is a clear message of hope for the region. We want to bring a significant amount of funding to do the productive investments that will create jobs and economic growth for the region. We also need a common regional market, and I hope that the leaders of the region will bring that plan to the Sofia Summit on 10 November”, added Ruiz Calavera.
Kmezić emphasised the necessity of providing more funds for civil society in the countries of the Western Balkans, in order to help them fight against state repression.
“The EU should commit to diverting financial aid from governments to civil society in those societies whose administrations breach basic democratic norms”, said Kmezić.