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Western Balkans Youth Forum 2022: Berlin Process needs to be more visible to WB citizens

Photo: Western Balkans Youth Forum / Majda Balić

BERLIN — The new momentum for the Berlin Process shows its importance for regional cooperation in the Western Balkans and their path towards the European Union, but there is still need to work on visibility of its results among the citizens, panelists concluded during the panel titled Berlin Process 2.0 on the third day of the Western Balkans Youth Forum 2022.

Representatives of regional organizations, governments and the EU institutions agreed that the Berlin Process is the best framework for regional cooperation in the Western Balkans thanks to its demonstrated ability to facilitate enough political will to produce tangible results. The three mobility agreements signed by the leaders during the Western Balkans Summit on 3 November are the latest example of that. The discussion was moderated by Adnan Ćerimagić, Senior Analyst for the Western Balkans at European Stability Initiative.

The German Federal Foreign Office takes credit for leadership of the negotiation process and its Special Representative for the Countries of the Western Balkans, Manuel Sarrazin, emphasized the importance of the agreements for the EU future of the region, as the process is “aligned and coordinated with the EU institutions”. He added that this year will bring the establishment of the Youth Culture Fund which will be another step in fostering regional cooperation and grassroots initiatives for the young people in the Western Balkans. 

“These agreements were possible because some of the questions and conflicts in the region were not addressed, but put aside. We didn’t solve all the problems, but anyway the political will was enough to get this step done. I’m convinced that there is a positive momentum and the atmosphere is positive on all sides,” Sarrazin said.

Jovana Marović, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of European Affairs in the Government of Montenegro, addressed the participants via video call from Podgorica and embraced the “new dynamics of the Berlin Process as a new sign in the enlargement process in general.” She explained that the connectivity agenda of the Berlin Process “brings together not just people, but also business sector and civil society.”

“In the sense of the Berlin process, there is still a need to work on its visibility because it wasn’t well communicated among Western Balkans citizens. The most visible results are the establishment of RYCO and the Roaming agreement, so it’s also important to communicate the benefits of the mobility agreements,” Marović added.

 

She also called upon the participating stakeholders to adopt efficient monitoring mechanisms that will insure the implementation of the agreements, bearing in mind that the implementation process might be challenging for some countries.

Pranvera Kastrati, Senior Expert on Economic and Digital Connectivity and Coordinator of the Common Regional Market (CRM) at the Regional Cooperation Council (RCC), welcomed the transformation of the Berlin Process from hard connectivity agenda focusing on the infrastructure to the inclusion of “social connectivity and people connectivity.” 

“We have learned as a part of regional cooperation processes that RCC has been facilitating, that whenever the citizens are at the core of the politicians’ agenda, they have more reason to deliver and we have shown this by very concrete results,” Kastrati stated.

Results of the Balkans Barometer survey show that 60% of young people believe that EU integration is good for them, as Pranvera Kastrati pointed out. She also warned that 67% of youngsters want to leave their countries and work abroad.

Senior Expert for Trade in Services in CEFTA, Zdravko Ilić, shared a perspective focused on trade. He explained that CEFTA has been working on enabling regional common market “by creating an environment for free movement of goods and services and eliminating legal obstacles.” According to his experience, the biggest problem in trade was the documentation, so CEFTA focuses on overcoming these obstacles by relying on the EU model. 

“What we said in the beginning was let’s not reinvent the wheel. Let’s see what is there in different EU directives and how we can adapt it to the regional framework and actually put it in practice,” Ilić explained.

Viola von Cramon-Taubadel, Member of the European Parliament, agreed on the importance of communicating results of the Berlin Process to the citizens and using its momentum. She shared hope that these agreements and their implementation will really make a difference for people in the Western Balkans.

“We can be happy and grateful that the Berlin Process finally took over from all the other competing initiatives like the Open Balkans initiative and many others. Finally we have a government here in Berlin who understands and implements the next steps which is sometimes a little bit overlooked in the region. It looks like small steps, but they really simplify the daily life of people in the region,” as Von Cramon said.

Secretary General of RYCO, Albert Hani, emphasized the results youth cooperation has brought since it was included as a topic of the Berlin Process. He added that this cooperation “shows readiness of new generations to take responsibility to engage in civil society and politics without fear.” Results of the process should not be undermined nor underestimated, because they are more than technical things, according to Hani. 

“Berlin Process needs a renewal and a reaffirmation from the political structures on their commitment. Now, seeing all these results on the table, we are ready to ask for more. In RYCO we believe that, in this new era of the Berlin process, we also need a new guarantee for youth. Everything being designed for the future needs to be done through the lenses of the youth,” as Hani pointed out.

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