The result of the General Affairs Council meeting on 15 October in Luxembourg, where European affairs ministers of EU Member States were not able to reach a unanimous decision on opening membership negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania, made the event in Zagreb bristle with discussion among policy experts and MFA senior officials from both the EU and the WB. Subject of the deliberations was the future of EU enlargement and possible contributions of the Berlin-Process in that regard.
What could make enlargement policy more effective? Is enlargement still the correct frame for the EU's policy towards the Western Balkans? How credible is EU conditionality and does a policy framework which is 'full of life' in respect to EU-WB relations still exist? Is it time to change the rules of the game? Can the Berlin Process play a role to that end?
These were, among others, questions posed and debated in the course of the event, which comprised of a high-level public discussion followed by working sessions under Chatham House Rules.
Although the participants agreed that the enlargement process had not produced sufficient results since the accession of Croatia, that more inclusiveness was needed for building trust, and, as some argued, past accession processes did not set good examples for the future, diverse and contesting points of view where identified.
There was lively debate on how to evolve the Berlin Process and whether and how WB countries should use the opportunities offered through the present policy framework.
Some proposals put forward suggested that the Berlin-Process be evolved in a direction that would allow the WB states to contribute to shaping EU policy, from security to environment. Policy experts and senior officials also reiterated connectivity as a potent frame for better relations.
The FES will continue hosting events in the Reflection Fora series, in the hope of putting relevant questions on the table and collectively creating fresh thinking on the future of Europe as a whole with the European region Western Balkans in its midst.