TIRANA – The brutal invasion of Ukraine by Russia has dramatically shifted geopolitical dynamics and energized efforts to bring Western Balkans closer to the EU, it is said during the panel “Breaking Barriers to Regional Security Cooperation”, at the Civil Society Forum in Tirana.
The panel discussed strategies for rationalizing regional security cooperation initiatives and building greater confidence for exchange and collaboration among security institutions in the region. Participants expressed their views on the current state of regional security cooperation, as well as the cybersecurity, organized crime, and corruption threats.
The Interior Minister of Albania, Taulant Balla, mentioned during the discussion a meeting of interior ministers from the region as part of the Berlin Process, where they discussed regional cooperation in the field of security.
According to him, the key topics of the ministerial meeting included integrated border control, the fight against organized crime, and the establishment of regional cooperation in cyber security.
He assessed that the war in Ukraine has created an entirely new geopolitical context, not only in the EU but also in the Western Balkans. He added that the negative impact of the war and Russia’s presence in the region can only be mitigated through the region’s full integration into the EU.
Balla strongly condemned the armed attack on the Kosovo Police in Banjska, north of Kosovo.
“Albania strongly condemns in the strongest term violent attack on Kosovo Police. This attack was a criminal act and an act of aggression against stability, integrity, independence, and law order in Kosovo. That is a threat to the security and stability of the whole region with direct consequences”, Balla underlined.
Speaking about the Berlin Process, he mentioned that the agreement on ID cards is a significant achievement, particularly in the context of security coordination in the region.
He also added that Albania has a particularly strong bilateral cooperation with WB countries, like Kosovo. He noted that so far, 26 bilateral agreements related to the security sector and improved cooperation in that field have been signed.
Addressing the new threat facing Western Balkan countries, cyber crimes, Balla emphasized the need for a common approach and the pooling of expertise from the entire region, with the assistance of the United States, the EU, and other Western partners.
Xhelal Sveçla, Kosovo Minister of Internal Affairs, assessed during the panel that the quality of democracy and institutions is more important than ever.
He underlined that Kosovo is fully committed to building capacities and participation in regional initiatives. In addition to agreements with Albania, Svecla mentioned 14 bilateral agreements with North Macedonia so far, as well as nine with Montenegro.
However, he assessed that there is no progress in cooperation with Serbia in terms of security. Sveçla added that the Serbian side is not ready for such a process, assessing that Kosovo authorities gave evidence that official Belgrade is linked with the attack in Banjska.
“From the footage that we have seen, we have proven that Serbia also supported the attack”, said Svecla and mentioned the attack on KFOR troops in Zvečan. “Tolerating such activities can only hamper the stability”, Sveçla said.
Deputy Foreign Minister of BiH, Josip Brkić, reminded that the Western Balkans is not less European because it is still not part of the EU. “Our social, cultural, historical background is attached to Europe”.
According to him, this new political momentum needs to be taken to fulfill Thessaloniki’s promise and to stabilize the entire political situation in the region. He believes that changing the narrative and focusing on positive achievements within the countries could be helpful.
“This political momentum will not last for long. Enlargement should not be the hostage of the internal composition within the EU”, said Brkić, adding that however, political stability and regional cooperation depend a lot on leaders of the Western Balkans. He expressed the hope that BiH will open accession talks in December
Sonja Stojanović Gajić, Independent Consultant, underlined the importance of integrating the Western Balkans in EU standards when it comes to the rule of law area.
She stressed that the whole region can come to the situation to be fully integrated in many areas without true democracy. “The worst scenario is that on paper we look good and integrated but stay without democracy and dealing with everyday concerns, safety and rights of our citizens”, she said.
Dan Ilazi, Head of Research at Kosovar Centre For Security Studies, said that the thematic working group dedicated to security and geopolitics has shared its recommendations for enhancing regional cooperation in this field in three categories: the EU, regional states, civil society, and the media.
The European Commission should establish a financial facility solely dedicated to supporting reconciliation projects in the Western Balkans. For the new legislative term, the European Commission/DG Near should put forward a proposal for the establishment of such a program, under IPA, Global Europe, or another adequate instrument.
During 2024, the national authorities in the Western Balkans should focus on establishing a screening mechanism for Foreign Direct Investments (FDI), or at least agree on regionally accepted standards for screening of investments. Ilaze mentioned that the recommendation for WB leaders is the change of language and rhetoric.
„We appeal to leaders to have more reconciliatory messages, without the using of rhetoric which demonizes groups or blames someone“, Ilazi added.
The recommendation for media and civil society is to deepen cooperation in the fight against disinformation and fact-checking. As Ilazi concluded, the media plays a crucial role, and greater collaboration at the regional level is needed.