Velina Lilyanova (The European Parliamentary Research Service)
The six countries of the Western Balkans – Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Kosovo, Montenegro and Serbia – have one goal in common – to join the European Union. However, the dire economic situation, the unstable political environment and above all the unresolved disputes amongst themselves put these countries at a disadvantage. Will these Western Balkans states manage to overcome their disputes via the Berlin process?
The possibility of a membership coupled with the awareness that a long-term stability and transformation of the region could be best secured through economic growth and increasing regional cooperation, led to the so-called Berlin process. Within its framework, in the 2014-2018 period, there are annual meetings of the representatives of the six countries of the Western Balkans and the representatives of selected EU countries. The EU countries that participate in those meetings are Germany, Austria, France, Italy, Slovenia and Croatia and furthermore the states that are actively involved in the expansion of the region and host the summit. Representatives of the Commission or international financial institutions may take part as well. Interestingly, the chosen time frame of the annual meetings held between 2014 and 2018 is meant to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the beginning and end of the 1st World War.
The Berlin process is also a new framework for regional cooperation, which is, together with good neighborly relations, not only a prerequisite for joining the European Union but also a strategy for solving related problems. Croatia’s EU accession in 2013, together with Slovenia‘s efforts to integrate Western Balkans in the EU, launched the „Brdo process“, which gave rise to the Berlin process that got its name after the place of the first meeting. This project is based on three pillars, which draw on economic, diplomatic and soft tools (such as improving the level of education, supporting civil society, reducing unemployment).
Due to the prolonged economic crisis, high unemployment, especially among young people, as well as the fact that none of these countries has a functioning market, the economic governance is at the top of the agenda and it has also received the largest allocation of funds. Other topics include for example strengthening good governance, positive investment climate, increasing competitiveness, developing the Energy Community for Southeastern Europe and cooperating in transport. A specific agenda has, however, never been strictly determined – on the contrary, its revision is expected.
(The study can be downloaded here:http://www.europarl.europa.eu/thinktank/en/document.html?reference=EPRS_BRI(2016)586602)