Western Balkans Reflection Forum: Tirana

The Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, in cooperation with the Austro-French Centre for Rapprochement, and with the support of a consortium of organizations from both EU member and non-member states, started a series of events under the title “The Western Balkans Discuss the Future of Europe”.

Building upon the Reflection Forum discussion rounds in the framework of the Berlin Process, this series aims to look on the Western Balkans as a region in Europe, i.e. as a region which can contribute to - rather than merely accommodate - EU visions and aspirations.

The first event in the series, focusing on the European “Widening vs Deepening” debate took place in Tirana on September 24-15, 2019. It was an opportunity for participants to shift away from topics usually dominating EU-WB fora such as enlargement fatigue, bilateral disputes or connectivity. Instead, the participants shared reflections on the “widening vs deepening" debate which were informed by their respective local experiences.

The event consisted of two elements, a closed-door workshop for younger representatives of the academic and CSO communities as well as a public debate with policy and decision-makers.

Around 25 participants reflected during the closed-door workshop on a series of questions including, among others, the question of "where Europe ends". The participants also discussed whether a deepening of relations among Western Balkans countries might contribute to the European debate on widening vs deepening. In that sense, youngsters gave examples on the region's experience with federalism and how that might actually be a noteworthy input from the region vis-a-vis wider debates on the future of Europe.

On the second day, a high-level public discussion was held with over 50 participants from the diplomatic corps in Tirana, representatives of the Albanian government including the Prime Minister’s cabinet, as well as with a number of CSO representatives and the interested public. During the debate, options to resolve the widening vs deepening debate including “multi-speed Europe” as well as different visions for the finality of Europe were discussed. Additionally, a rapporteur from the closed-door workshop from the previous day shared the views of the youngsters on these topics.

Unsurprisingly, the Q&A part of the public debate was influenced by the current issue of Albania and North Macedonia opening negotiations for membership as well as the outlook of individual EU member states on enlargement.

The series will continue with debates on the future of Europe in other regional capitals with topics ranging from "environmental protection and climate change" to "social  Europe", "Europe in the world", and others.

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