Think Tank Forum: Reinforcing the European integration of the Western Balkans – learning from the past, preparing for the future

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The integration of the Western Balkan countries in the European Union, bilateral issues, security challenges and mutual cooperation of the countries of the region were part of the topics of the two-day think tank forum ‘Reinforcing the European Integration of the Western Balkans – Learning from the Past, Preparing for the Future’ organized by Institute for Democracy ‘Societas Civilis’ in cooperation with the Centre for Eastern Studies from Warsaw and the Embassy of the Republic of Poland to Skopje.

The event was held on May 13th and 14th (Monday and Tuesday) at the Holiday Inn Hotel in Skopje, North Macedonia.

Think tankers, civil society representatives, academia from the Western Balkans countries plus Croatia and Slovenia, Visegrad countries and participants from other EU member states participated in two plenary sessions, three round-tables and one closed workshop as an introduction to the upcoming Western Balkans Summit which will be held in Poznan in July this year.

The Forum was opened by the president of the Institute for Democracy ‘Societas Civilis’, Marko Trosanovski and the Director of the Centre for Eastern Studies, Adam Eberhard.

Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Poland Szymon Szynkowski vel Sęk, his Macedonian counterpart Andrej Zernovski and Maciej Popowski, and the deputy director of the European Commission’s Directorate General for Neighborhood and Enlargement, gave introductory remarks.

The lessons learned from the enlargement of the European Union as well as the perspective of the countries of the region in the context of their future integration into the EU were discussed the first day of the Forum in two separate sessions.

Euroscepticism and why it is expanded, the perception of previous enlargement rounds, as well as the experience, benefits and challenges that the Visegrad countries have had since their entry into the EU were discussed at the first session. The EU does not need new member states that have unresolved bilateral issues was the conclusion of the second session, where part of the speakers emphasized that the status quo in the region should also not be an option for the EU.

The second day of the Forum started with a round table where participants discussed the regional cooperation of the six Western Balkan countries and ways of overcoming bilateral issues. Prespa Agreement, that was reached as a solution for the name issue between North Macedonia and Greece, was pointed out as a good example for resolving bilateral disagreements.

At the second round table, participants discussed the common security challenges facing the EU and the Western Balkans such as organized crime, reforms in security sector and judiciary. Тhe need for increased inter-institutional trust in the region was emphasized.

Resilience of the Western Balkan countries was the topic of the third round table where the political influence of Russia and China through economic and capital investments in the region were underlined.

The event ended with the SEE Think Net – Think Visegrad Workshop intended to discuss and familiarize the Western Balkan partners with the best practices for cooperation between the think tank community and state institutions in the Visegrad countries.

The Forum, which was held for the first time in this format, was supported by the Government of Poland and organized under the auspices of the Polish Presidency of the Western Balkans Summit (Berlin Process).

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