The overall idea of the Civil Society Forum of the Western Balkans Summit Series is to establish dialogue between state leaders, civil society, and EU representatives in order to facilitate and inform the Berlin Process as well as overall EU integration of the Western Balkans. The three-day event in Tirana saw over a hundred participants and vibrant panel discussions based on position papers on the topics of youth cooperation, rule of law, business environment and innovation, as well as bilateral issues. The aim was to jointly formulate recommendations within these subcategories to create a basis for the Western Balkans summit in July 2017, which will take place in Trieste, Italy.
Youth cooperation is developing with the launch of the Regional Youth Cooperation Office of the Western Balkans (RYCO), and further recommendations concerning youth policy focused on modernizing educational curricula, fostering student mobility, and standardization and compatibility of diplomas.
In terms of rule of law, corruption continues to be the major obstacle blocking progress. The Forum acknowledged that the European Commission cites corruption repetitively as a prevalent issue, and recommended the identification of clear indicators for monitoring the promotion of accountability in the region.
Social economy and social enterprises were discussed as an innovative means to tackle longstanding issues of private sector under-performance and brain drain. Recommendations included the strategic encouragement of entrepreneurship in the region through lower market entry barriers for innovative businesses.
With regards to bilateral issues, the urgent need for more inter-state cooperation in the region especially concerning the EU accession process was addressed. Civil society has a crucial role in facilitating this process, and should hence be the continued focus of Western European policy makers when pushing for the region’s integration. The Forum was a step in the direction of making use of this potential, whose ultimate outcome will be negotiated in Trieste.
In addition to drafting policy recommendations to the Western Balkans Summit, the Forum also addressed the role and situation of civil society throughout the region. The participants joined the Vice-President of the European Parliament, Ms Ulrike Lunacek as well as Vice Chair of the Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament, Ms Tanja Fajon, in raising their deep concern over the ongoing witch-hunt on several civil society organizations in Macedonia while further condemning the storming of the Macedonian parliament on 27 April, 2017 as a non-acceptable attack on democracy.
Extensive coverage of the Civil Society Forum, including Interviews with Albania's Minister for Foreign Affairs, H.E. Ditmir Bushati, the Special Envoy of the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs for the Berlin Process, H.E. Michele Giacomelli, and former leader of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D) group in the European Parliament, Hannes Swoboda, can be found here and here.
The Civil Society Forum Tirana 2017 was a joint initiative of the European Fund for the Balkans, the Erste Stiftung, and the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung Dialogue Southeast Europe in cooperation with the Coooperation & Development Institute.