BELGRADE – The overlapping of initiatives like the Berlin Process and Open Balkan is the main issue regarding regional cooperation in the Western Balkans, it was agreed by the panelists during the panel Ending regional cooperation confusion – mission (im)possible? organized by The Balkans in Europe Policy Advisory Group (BiEPAG)
Tanja Miščević, Minister of European Integration in the Government of Serbia emphasized that regional cooperation is not only a criterion for EU accession but a necessity.
She added that it is not a replacement for the integration, but should be complementary to it.
“Moreover, international organizations are not the ones that create democracy, it is the country that builds democracy. EU is only the instrument and not the end goal – which is creating stable democratic institutions”, Miščević underlined.
Former Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of European Affairs in the Government of Montenegro, and BiEPAG member Jovana Marović, emphasized that the EU is different from other international organizations, being the supernational community and that she believes that EU is able to export democracy.
She mentioned some of the main issues regarding regional cooperation highlighting that it is in question whether the regional initiatives are leading the region to the EU or are they replacing integrations.
Marović added that regional initiatives are focused more on the economy than democracy and that a clear position from the EU is needed on these initiatives.
“There is definitely an overlapping of regional initiatives. The question is do we, as a region, have the institutional capacity for so many initiatives, having in mind the Berlin Process, CEFTA, Open Balkan”, said Marović.
According to Richard Grievenson from Vienna Institute for International Economic Studies If everything works well regarding regional cooperation, the upside is still not huge in comparison to EU integration.
“We are talking about small markets with low economic development,” said Grievenson. He said that Western Balkans should be fully included in the EU budget in order to secure regional economic integration which is possible.
“Technical support should also be provided to maximize absorption”. He concluded that his point is not to say that regional cooperation is a waste of time, but the problem is the lack of economic development in the region.
On the other hand, Serbian Minister for European Integration Miščević disagreed with Grievenson, stating that she believes that there are important benefits from regional integration.
“Open Balkan has been created with an interest to overcome obstacles in creating the regional market. It is an open initiative it’s not the organization as Berlin Process. It is created because of connectivity.” she concluded.
BiEAPAG published policy Brief “Through the Labyrint of Regional Cooperation: How to Make Sense of Regional Integration in the Western Balkans“, which analyses the scope, depth and limitations of regional integration in the Western Balkans, and considers whether it actually delivers the desired results or is rather a distraction from EU integration.
In the absence of a breakthrough in the EU integration of the Western Balkan six, the EU has been innovative in finding ways to keep the countries of the region interested in pursuing reforms. These include strengthening regional integration via the Berlin Process. Meanwhile some Western Balkan countries have initiated a parallel regional integration process called Open Balkan.