The Balkans in Europe Policy Advisory Group (BiEPAG) and the European Fund for the Balkans (EFB) in cooperation with the Danish Foreign Policy Society and three key Danish political parties – the Social Democrats, the Liberal Party and Green Left, hosted the whole day conference at the Danish Parliament on January 25th, 2023.
The discussion which has attracted a huge interest and had a public of around 100 participants, was mainly focused on the recent developments and the present challenges in the relationship between the EU and the aspiring member states in the Western Balkan.
In the centre of the debate were the opportunities and obstacles for the countries of the Western Balkan towards progress in the EU accession through a dialogue between policy makers, activists and analysts from Denmark, the EU and the Western Balkans and how to make the integration process of the Western Balkans more tangible, bringing the region closer to the EU and how Denmark can support the process.
In this context, the opening remarks given by Kasper Sand Kjær, Chairperson of Danish Institute for Parties and Democracy, Member of parliament for the Social Democratic Party, Aleksandra Tomanić, Executive Director, European Fund for the Balkans and Florian Bieber, Professor of Southeast European History and Politics, University of Graz and BiEPAG Coordinator, resonated with similar messages. On one hand, as BiEPAG’s Coordinator Florian Bieber stated, the enlargement can be a tool for deepening and transforming the EU internally as well, as well as having the Western Balkans as part of that stronger and better EU as Sand Kjær concluded.
Democracy and Rule of law in the Western Balkans under pressure in the context of geopolitical competition between EU, Russia, China, and Others
The first panel was lead by BiEPAG's Coordinator Florian Bieber and BiEPAG's Member Donika Emini, and mirrored by three Danish politicians and members of parliament; Marianne Bigum from Green Left, Jesper Petersen, Member of Parliament and Spokesperson on foreign policy for the Social Democrat Party, Christoffer Melson, The Liberal Party of Denmark.
It was concluded that with prolonged stay in the waiting room to the EU, the Western Balkan countries risk sliding back into conflict and governance crisis, which is already evident in some countries in the region as Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. The lack of concrete progress and clear recognition affects not only the political elites, but also citizens and especially young people’s view on a future in the countries making up the Western Balkans.
Challenges of Trust and Transformation in the Western Balkans
Parallel to this development there is a growing trend of democratic movements and political parties across the Balkans aspiring to break with patterns of authoritarianism, clientelism, corruption and nationalist narratives, which keep the countries tied to the past. Across the region, a number of liberal, progressive and green parties, which partner with Danish political parties, are challenging the status quo and in some countries participate in the government of their respective countries such as in Kosovo, Montenegro and North Macedonia.
As said at the panel which was moderated by Christine Ravn Lund, Danish Youth Council, Chairperson and had Martin Karov, International secretary of MODOM, North Macedonia, Ivan Durgutov, Young European Ambassador, North Macedonia, Milan Vujic, activist, Serbia, Samir Beharic, activist, the activism is a more difficult path, but the only one in circumstances when the authorities and the political parties do not approach the problems. This situation of ignoring the problems is also causing a devastating brain drain and emigration, while the countries of the region are slipping further away from their EU path. This is ignored not only by the relevant actors in the countries of the region, but also by the international community.
Potential of Transformative Movements, Civil Society and Progressive Parties
While partnering with many international partners such as the Danish political parties and a multiple of European foundations, there is a strong wish for clearer and encouraging signals from the EU, while the parties fight against local narratives of nationalism, religious differences and external influence from Russia, China, and the Middle East.
The session moderated by Kasper Sand Kjær (MP, Social Democratic Party) had Monika Zajkova, party leader of LDP, North Macedonia, Mileta Radovanic, Secretary general of URA, Montenegro, Maja Moracanin, leader of DOM, North Macedonia, Robert Kozma, Ne davimo Beograd, MP & European Affairs Committee member, Serbia and Irfan Čengić, MP in Cantonal Assembly of Canton of Sarajevo, BiH, as speakers. The main conclusion was that the common denominator is that the political parties in the Western Balkans region should be reformed and a lot should be invested in promoting new parties in order to change the current non-functioning party system of ever-changing same actors in the public space.
In his closing remarks, the Danish Minister for Foreign Affairs, Lars Løkke Rasmussen referred to the 30th anniversary of the Copenhagen criteria as a roadmap to accession, with an accent of helping the Western Balkans EU accession, supporting the democratic reforms in the Western Balkans and making extra efforts to push the EU Enlargement forward.
The conference was realised with funding from the Danish Institute for Parties and Democracy through the support to democracy through partnerships between Danish political parties with political parties in the Western Balkans and the European Fund for the Balkans.