The future of the Western Balkans is an issue that is moving swiftly up the European agenda. But rising instability, territorial disputes and ethnic rivalries mean many in Europe fear a return to war and conflict in the region. And with more than one in five people unemployed, the region still has many reforms to make.
Democracy, peace and stability, as well economic development and integration in the Western Balkans, depends not only on the policies and actions of national governments but on regional, municipal and city authorities. But with the Western Balkan states now clearly at a crossroads between EU accession and maintaining the status quo, it isn’t clear which course these decision-makers will take.
In the framework of this annual event, now in its 18th year, Friends of Europe and its partners have been addressing issues affecting the Balkans, enabling senior policymakers from the region to share their concerns and ideas with EU and member state policymakers. Our Balkans series has welcomed presidents, prime ministers and ministers, as well as a few hundred key representatives from the EU institutions, member states, business representatives and civil society.
Join the discussion on our Twitter using #BalkansSummit.
08.30 – 09.00
Welcome coffee and registration of participants
09.00 - 10.00
SESSION I: PEACE, DEMOCRACY AND RECONCILIATION
While their membership of the European Union is progressing slowly, countries in the Western Balkans are moving swiftly up the European agenda. Given rising instability, territorial disputes and ethnic rivalries in the region, many in Europe fear a return to war and conflict in the Western Balkans. The governments in the Western Balkans complain of European neglect and frustration at being kept outside the EU, though the region has become a “chessboard” for competing influence by Russia, Turkey, China and other countries. Top EU policymakers continue to insist that the Western Balkans are part of Europe and that reconciliation and democratization have to be the main focus. Federica Mogherini, the EU High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy also warned recently that there can be no peace in Europe, without peace in the Balkans. With the Western Balkan states now clearly at a crossroads between EU accession and retaining the status quo, it isn’t clear where the region is heading.
- What are the main reasons for the return of nationalism and ethnic tensions in the region and how can the Western Balkans be persuaded to look forward instead of at their past to enable movements beyond ethnical and nationality-based politics?
- Having put a halt to further enlargement for the moment, what strategic tools does the EU have to ensure peace and deepening democratization in the Western Balkans?
- Given current tensions in the region, what is the state of efforts at regional economic integration including the Connectivity Agenda, energy networks and the building of stronger links between young people?
- How can open dialogue, reconciliation and democratization, civil space and a free and fair media be further enables in the Western Balkans?
- What are the main security challenges in the region, especially regarding the influence of external actors?
10.00 – 10.30
10.30 - 11.30
SESSION II: BUSINESS OUTLOOK PERKS UP BUT REFORMS MUST CONTINUE
Countries in the Western Balkans are growing at a faster pace than in 2015, with regional growth projected to be 2.8 percent in 2016 and 3.2 percent in 2017, according to the World Bank. Growth and employment have increased especially in countries that have made significant progress in economic reforms and improved the environment for domestic and foreign investments. The unemployment rate is still estimated at around 22 percent, however, indicating that the region has to stay the course on reform. The European Commission has called on prime ministers from the six states to create a truly regional economic area that attracts investments and leads to trade barriers removals, jobs creation, thereby boosting their chances of eventually joining the EU.
- Can young entrepreneurs be a vehicle for promoting new society values in the region such as integrity, creativity, problem solving, leadership, collaboration and what are governments and regional institutions doing to equip youth with these skills?
- Are the governments in the Western Balkans doing enough to tackle the problems that hold back the region’s private sector, including the high levels of corruption and concerns of elite capture in the public and private sectors?
- What are the biggest obstacles that face businesses in the Western Balkans in their day-to-day operations and is the situation improving?
- Is there any progress on fulfilling the EU’s vision of a “single space” for economic development?
- How can regional networks, systems and initiatives engage and contribute to the Europeanisation of SMEs, by promoting access to innovation, technology transfers and alternative financing?
11.30 - 12.00
12.00 - 12.30
12.30 - 13.30
SESSION III: THINK LOCAL, ACT REGIONAL
Get local governments on board and improve interconnectivity
Democracy, peace and stability as well economic development and integration and interconnectivity in the Western Balkans does not just depend on the policies and actions of national governments but also on the role of regional, municipal and city authorities. Capacitated local governments with authority and sufficient financial resources have a key role in developing regional and cross-border economies, managing EU funds and implementing EU legislation and reforms. In fact, while national governments and international institutions focus on problems across the Western Balkans States, cities and regions have been implementing solutions. Local authorities are responsible for measures to ensure economic and social progress, support the fight against climate change as well as for helping enforce democracy and the rule of law. But even as local governments in the Western Balkans become increasingly active economic and political players, with increased responsibilities, they continue to face challenges due to decentralization, a mismatch of revenue and expenditure management, a lack of infrastructure investments, and weak local institutions.
- What can the European Union do to help increase local cooperation within the Western Balkan States?
- What is being done to ensure decentralisation reforms are fully implemented and financial as well as others capacities of local government actors and civil society are strengthened to address key challenges, such as air pollution, effective public services delivery and local economic development ?
- Are regional and city authorities across the region working together on common interests and challenges including fostering links among youth as well as questions of corruption, good governance and investment strategies?
- What is the specific role of Balkan local authorities in the EU enlargement process and how can it be bolstered?
End of summit
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