Against the backdrop of the French opposition to opening accession negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia, the topic of further EU enlargement dominated the discussion, but was set in a broader context of current political upheavals in Europe resulting from a composition of the new European Parliament (EP), looming Brexit, the unpredictable US administration, Turkey’s operation in Syria, elections in Kosovo and many others.
The 20th edition of the Dubrovnik Dialogue gathered social-democratic parliamentarians and experts from the region and its neighbourhood. The aim was to facilitate an exchange of views and stimulate thought-provoking debates on the most relevant topics in this part of Europe. The 2019 Cavtat Conference covered topics ranging from what to expect from the new European Commission, the future of enlargement, the need for the entrenchment of the rule of law, the position of youth, responsibility of parliamentarians and many more.
The opening speeches touched upon the make-up of the new European Commission, which is a result of painful compromises that reflect the distribution of votes after the May 2019 European elections. S&D lost around 30 seats in the last elections, while the loss for the EPP is even more substantial – about 40 seats. For the first time, these two political groups do not present a majority in the EP. Cooperation has to be established and sustained with other pro-European forces – Greens and Renew Europe.
The first panel took off with the state of play in the EU at the moment, concluding that, if stubborn views prevailed, the EU itself might become a ‘hybrid threat’ to the region. In the second panel, there was a suggestion for a new narrative. Not only should Balkan countries try to think about how their membership would enrich the EU. They should also be more vocal regarding their factual contributions to the EU´s economy: after all, the Western Balkans are not only providing skilled labour but also suffer from a high trade deficit as a result of its integration into the European market.
Following a presentation of some main findings and recommendations of the FES Regional Youth Study Southeast Europe 2018/19, parliamentarians considered several concrete policies to improve the situation of youth in the region:
The remainder of the debate on youth concentrated on the fact that education systems, in general, do not generate knowledge and skills necessary for progressive political societies with vibrant economies. Political climates maintain nationalistic discourses and ethnic distance is still very much present. Young people do not spend time abroad while in school, which suggests that more should be invested in the creation of mobility schemes.
The brain drain will remain a huge problem due to slow development, stagnation or even regression both in political and economic terms in the region. Pull factors should be tackled holistically, in a broader framework of cooperation between this region and the EU in terms of entrenching the rule of law, fighting corruption, improving education and vocational training and creating flexible mobility schemes that facilitate circular migration, dual employments and other creative solutions.
At the next Cavtat conference, lawmakers from across the region will return with reports on what actions concretely they implemented in their home caucuses. As a final message, participants agreed more young parliamentarians were needed for democratic development and progress in the region.