European Western Balkans

CSOs remain a key actor in monitoring and implementing achievements of the Berlin Process

Photo: Twitter / Odeta Barbullushi

TIRANA – Civil Society Organizations play an important role in the re-launched Berlin Process which is re-launched to bring the region closer to the EU, it was stated during the opening of the Launching Event of the 2023 Tirana Civil Society Forum. This event officially kickstarts the process and introduces the objectives and activities of this year’s CFS.

The Forum is being held as part of the Annual Summit of the Berlin Process, which is being organized for the first time in a Western Balkan country and is hosted by the Government of Albania, the current holder of the Berlin Process Presidency. “The event serves as a pivotal moment to launch the Forum, bringing together representatives of civil society and experts from the six Western Balkan countries, as well as from various European Union member states such as Greece, Germany, Italy, Austria, Poland, and beyond”, organizers stated.

Seven thematic working groups led by civil society organizations from the Western Balkans region will initiate conversations on key topics such as energy, access to the European single market, digitalization and connectivity, climate and the green agenda, mobility and migration, security and geopolitics, and the politics of enlargement.

These groups will jointly formulate policy recommendations after a thorough process of consultation with civil society and regional experts, and engage in advocacy with Western Balkans governments, EU Member States, and regional and international institutions. According to organizers, the results will be presented and discussed during the Civil Society and Think Tank Forum, which precedes the Leader’s Summit.

German Ambassador to Albania, Peter Zingraf, assessed that the Berlin Process is an ongoing one, where civil society organizations have a huge role in monitoring and implementing results. He added that CSOs play a key role in the institutional transformation of the region within the framework of the EU integration process.

According to him, one of the biggest strengths of the Berlin Process lies in its flexibility and non-institutionalization.

“Times have changed since the beginning of the Berlin Process. I still think that we need something like this. My government is coming to support this process and stress regional connectivity as one of its main goals, especially in creating a Common Regional Market (CRM),” Zingraf said.

Luigi Mattirolo, Deputy Ambassador of the Republic of Italy in Albania, said that Italy is a clear and strong supporter of the EU integration of Western Balkan countries. He added that the context in Europe changed after 24 February 2022 when Russia attacked Ukraine.

“We have to look at Europe from a different perspective. The imperative and strategic priority should be the integration of the Western Balkans into the EU. We have to use this event as an opportunity to accelerate the integration process. We firmly support the Berlin Process as a crucial instrument to bring the region closer, foster regional cooperation, and promote EU integration of the region,” Mattirolo said.

He underlined that one of the objectives of the Berlin Process is to enhance economic development in the region.

“We are convinced that by improving living conditions, we can also tackle many of the problems that this region has, such as brain drain and high emigration. Additionally, by enhancing economic development, we will attract more investments. It is a cycle that could bridge the gap between the EU and the Western Balkans,” explained the Deputy Ambassador of Italy.

He mentioned that many reforms have been undertaken by the Western Balkans, but there is still a lot of work to be done to meet European standards, such as the rule of law and the fight against corruption.

Odeta Barbullushi, Advisor to the Prime Minister of Albania on Western Balkans and EU Affairs, said that Albania strongly supports the relaunch of the Berlin Process last year.

“The DNA of Albanian Foreign Policy is regional cooperation. This is one of the main pillars of our foreign policy,” Barbullushi said.

According to her, last year the European Union had a greater presence in the Western Balkans in political and economic terms. She mentioned a clear demonstration through the first EU-Western Balkans Summit in the region, granting candidate status to Bosnia and Herzegovina, and visa liberalization for Kosovo.

Barbullushi added that along with the political connection between the EU and the Western Balkans, there is a need for a socio-economic dimension to those connections, which could bring the region closer to the European Union.

Andi Dobrushi, Western Balkans Director at the Open Society Foundation, emphasized that EU integration is the only plan for the countries of the region, asserting that there is no alternative to it. “The EU path may be seen as mere rhetoric by politicians, but for the citizens, EU membership remains a highly important objective,” he said.

He acknowledged that there is a renewed momentum for enlargement following the war in Ukraine, but emphasized that the crucial question is how the region and the EU will respond to this situation.

“By examining the data from the Eurobarometer, it is evident that citizens are deeply concerned about political and security configuration. They desire greater EU and NATO presence in the Balkans due to the situation in Ukraine,” Dobrushi stated. Regarding the Berlin Process, he assessed that the signing of three agreements in Berlin last year could provide a fresh impetus for regional cooperation.

The Open Society Foundations – Western Balkans (OSFWB), mandated by the Government of Albania as the current holder of the Presidency of the Berlin Process, and in collaboration with the Hellenic Foundation for European & Foreign Policy (ELIAMEP) and with the Cooperation and Development Institute (CDI), will organize this year’s Civil Society & Think Tank Forum (CSF).

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