Balkan leadership conference "Western Balkan Countries and EU Relations – Challenges and Perspectives”.
Vienna, November 11, 2022.
Session 2: Western Balkans and the EU Accession Process Fatigue – Results, Responsibilities and Next Steps
Moderator - Ms. Marinela Stefanc, Secretary General, UPF Austria
- H.E. Filip Vujanović, President of Podgorica Club; President of Montenegro (2003-2018)
- H.E. Rexhep Meidani, President of Albania (1997-2002)
- Dr. Valentin Inzko, High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina (2009-2021) (video message)
- H.E. Zlatko Lakumdžija, Prime Minister of Bosnia Herzegovina (2001-2002)
- H.E Jadranka Kosor, Prime Minister of Croatia (2009-2011)
- Hon. Lukas Mandl, Member of European Parliament
- Dr. Michael Balcomb, Senior Advisor, UPF Europe & Middle East
H.E. Filip Vujanović, President of Podgorica Club; President of Montenegro (2003-2018)
Mr. Vujanović presented an overview of the Podgorica Club, founded in Montenegro in February 2019. The founding members are former Presidents and Prime Ministers of the Western Balkans, Croatia, and Slovenia.
The aim of the club is to improve cooperation and partnership ties within the Western Balkans and to help accelerate EU integration. Mr. Vujanović lauded the efforts of the founding members who apply their expertise to advance the goals of the club.
Highlighting the fatigue affecting both the EU and the Western Balkans, he explained that North Macedonia and Albania anticipate the start of negotiations, while Bosnia Herzegovina and Kosovo await candidate status.
Referring to the next steps, he mentioned the Berlin Process set up by the EU to create a common regional market for Western Balkans, which was agreed at the EU-West Balkan summit in Sofia in 2020. Unfortunately, afterwards, Serbia and North Macedonia launched a north-region initiative called the Open Balkan Initiative, which was rejected by Montenegro, Kosovo and Bosnia and Herzegovina, resulting in misunderstandings. However, in November 2022, Olaf Schulz sponsored the Berlin Process summit to reinstate the common regional market, which was signed by six Western Balkan states. Mr Vujanović hopes that it will benefit the local population and serve as a precondition to accelerate EU integration.
H.E. Rexhep Meidani, President of Albania (1997-2002)
Mr Meidani stated that NATO and EU accession are necessary for stability in the Western Balkans. He compared the quick US decision-making process and fast NATO entry process with the slow EU decision-making process and delayed EU integration process.
Regarding the whole Balkan region, five states are EU members, while seven are waiting. He referred to President Chirac’s recommendation for a two-speed process for Balkan-EU integration. Currently, the fourth speed involves six countries, but Belgrade’s refusal to recognise Kosovo creates an obstacle. Concerning unsettling events in Kosovo and Russia’s destabilising influence in Serbian affairs, he reiterated the need for EU support.
Overall, Mr Meidani views the stalled EU accession a threat to democracy in the Western Balkans; the EU and US accept stable autocracy for the sake of political stability, while xenophobic Eurosceptics also play a role.
Mr. Meidani believes the lack of recognition of Kosovo by five EU states demonstrates disunity among EU states; this undermines the merit-based process. However, he hopes EU investment in the region will help establish a solid market economy and stem brain drain.
Mr. Meidani regards the Berlin Process as an opportunity for closer Balkan ties and a pillar for EU integration. Recently, six West Balkan states agreed to facilitate free movement of citizens in the region and to grant mutual recognition of professional and academic qualifications. He concluded that this is crucial in easing tensions in the region and simplifying the accession process.
Dr. Valentin Inzko, High Rep. for Bosnia and Herzegovina (2009-2021) (video message)
Dr Inzko mentioned the flight of young talented professionals from the Balkans and listed better salaries and more jobs through enticing foreign direct investment as a solution. He emphasised rule of law, justice, and the fight against corruption as core areas for improvement, which also cause emigration.
He highlighted three lessons learned: a mission should be completed based on the rule of law; frozen conflicts are potential trouble spots; a confrontational approach may be necessary to find solutions.
Concerning the session topic, he alluded to the withdrawal of German troops from Bosnia Herzegovina ten years ago and their recent return, which, together with the Berlin Process, reflects a recent shift towards Western Balkan EU integration.
To speed up the EU integration process, he recommended a type of flight simulator activity by participating in EU meetings on existing strategies for climate and health without voting rights at first. He concluded this would enable peace, security, and stability.
H.E. Zlatko Lakumdžija, Prime Minister of Bosnia Herzegovina (2001-2002)
Mr Lakumdžija mentioned the role of high reps in establishing peace in the Balkans since the Dayton Peace Accord in 1995. Initially, he said he felt he was partaking in an experiment, but now understands the situation better. He believes the Ukrainians fight for freedom will ensure a united Europe, and he anticipates the Western Balkans will join by 2030.
Focusing on results, responsibilities, and next steps, he stated that Europe will remain incomplete until the Balkans join. The fact that the Western Balkans have not yet gained accession is in part their own fault. Yet he is convinced that the Balkans must be managed for the EU to be a geopolitical player. In his opinion, the EU lacks political capacity and the ability to live up to its own moral values. Despite Eurosceptic populism, he believes the EU has enough economic, institutional, and political capacity to unite.
He is convinced that if Western Balkans follow the Berlin Process, they could join the ‘European Economic Union’ as a first step. Further possible steps include participation in the European Health Union and the European Green Deal. Such initiatives require leadership, he said. Concluding, he stated that the Western Balkans have many difficulties, causing emigration, and, unfortunately, many Balkan politicians lack interest in the EU.
H.E. Jadranka Kosor, Prime Minister of Croatia (2009-2011)
Ms. Kosor referred to July 2009 and her visit to Brussels as Prime Minister of Croatia. There she found an EU tired of enlargement and indifferent due to the impact of the then global recession.
She stated that the EU commission imposed stricter criteria on Croatia, incorporating Chapter 23, which required cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal in the Hague in the judicial area in the fight against corruption and crime. Her government met all requirements and signed the accession treaty in 2011.
Considering recent difficulties in the EU following the pandemic, the Russia-Ukraine war and the energy crisis, Ms. Kosor believes that offering Ukraine candidate status now without fulfilling special criteria may be giving the Ukrainians false hope.
Advocating the same criteria for other Western Balkans as for Croatia, she said that leaders should try harder to meet the requirements, particularly in the fight against corruption and upholding the rule of law.
Referring to the current EU leaders, she believes they do not understand the Western Balkan states and their perspective. She concluded that a clear perspective for the Western Balkans is needed for a clear perspective for the EU.
Hon. Lukas Mandl, Member of European Parliament
Mr Mandl expressed his appreciation for the invitation. He stated that Europe is suffering from fatigue about its own destiny, particularly in relation to the Western Balkans.
Referring to Feb 24 wake-up call, he stated that many are still asleep as the EU lacks courageous leadership, prepared to take risk. He alluded to the vision of the late Mr. Busek, who desired that the Western Balkans join the EU together.
Mr. Mandl advocated courageous decision making for the sake of Europe’s destiny. He believes that EU membership for Western Balkans is vital for European security and for Europe’s international leverage. Concluding, he considered this meeting a call to action in order to offer the next generation a fully integrated Europe.
Dr. Michael Balcomb, Senior Advisor, UPF Europe & Middle East
Dr Balcomb reminded the audience of the 60th UN convocation in New York in 2005, when Kofi Annan questioned its role. Simultaneously, Dr Moon, at the UPF founding, highlighted the fundamental problem with the UN and all political institutions: Nations place self-interests first. Referring to Dr Moon’s vision, Dr Balcomb emphasised the need to move away from selfish individualism, philosophically and practically; he mentioned Dr Moon’s practical vision for peace - a highway linking Asia across the Bering Straits to the US, which Dr Moon argued would be less costly than war.
Dr. Balcomb asked the audience to devise new solutions to problems, saying changing others is difficult, but changing ourselves could begin there and then. Alluding to Mother Moon’s visit to Tirana, he recalled her motto: Forgive, Love, Unite as a way to solve problems.
Dr. Balcomb encouraged participants to attend the final session led by the youth, who could forgive and love more easily as they did not need to forget what they never experienced; thus, young people are the future.
Dr. Balcomb concluded with Mother Moon’s words of encouragement to continue their valuable work with renewed determination.