Think Balkans final event “The new reality. The Russian War on Ukraine and the Western Balkans” organized in Podgorica, Montenegro

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Institute for Democracy “Societas Civilis” – Skopje (IDSCS), in cooperation with Politikon Network on the 6 of September 2023 in Podgorica organized the panel discussion “The new reality. The Russian War on Ukraine and the Western Balkans” as part of the “Enhancing Think Balkans – knowledge hub for Western Balkans EU integration and regional cooperation” project.

The event served as a venue for promotion of the policy paper titled “The new reality: The Russian war on Ukraine and the Western Balkans EU accession process” by Ivan Damjanovski, Alba Cela, Igor Novakovic, Donika Emini and Nedzma Dzananovic. The event aimed to expand the debate about the enlargement process of Western Balkan countries into the European Union and shed light on how the ongoing conflict in Ukraine impacts this process.

The welcoming remarks were delivered by Nikola Mumin, project coordinator at the Center for Civil Liberties (CEGAS) and Zoran Nechev, Head of the Center for EU integration within the Institute for Democracy.

Mumin focused on the context for organizing this event and new enlargement momentum created by the war in Ukraine.

“The Russian war on Ukraine did not just change borders or political alliances. It challenged the very fabric of regional stability, raised questions about international solidarity, and has become a litmus test for EU aspirations in the Western Balkans. Our region, with its unique position, has a critical role to play in the evolving European and global landscape, and understanding these changes is vital”, said Mumin.

Nechev pointed out the objective of the Think Balkans platform and the hurdles the establishment of this platform have faced in the past and now. He mentioned the products Think Balkans produced and the plans for the future.

“The idea of this project is to build upon the experience and success of Think Visegrad and to establish a similar mechanism between the Ministries of Foreign Affairs (MFAs) and the think tank community in the WB in order to reach a certain point of trust between the MFAs and the think tank organisations”, said Nechev.

The first panel Ramifications of the war on Ukraine and on the EU enlargement” was moderated by Ivan Damjanovski, Professor at the Department of Political Science at the Faculty of Law in Skopje who emphasized the importance of discussing the geopolitical implications of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict on the Western Balkans. He was joined by Jana Juzova, Senior Researcher at the EUROPEUM Institute for European Policy, Miroslava Pisklova, Researcher at the Centre of the Slovak Foreign Policy Association (RC SFPA), Jelica Minic, President of the European Movement Serbia.

Juzová addressed the suggested concepts of gradual integration for the candidate countries for European Union.

“In the context of some EU Member States’ hesitancy to accept new members, blocking of the process due to bilateral issues and dire lack of reform momentum on the side of WB countries, steps towards gradual institutional and sectoral integration seem to be the only viable way forward in bringing the region closer to the Union”, said Juzova.

Pisklova discussed the prospects of introducing  Qualified Majority Voting (QMV) to the CFSP of the EU.

“Introduction of Qualified Majority Voting to the Common Foreign and Security Policy has been long discussed as a crucial step towards an EU that is quicker and also more effective in decision making within this area. It gained new momentum on the backdrop of the war in Ukraine, as well as following COFOE (Conference on the Future of Europe), and is also relevant within the debate on deepening/widening the EU. Member states should properly examine an option of introducing QMV to intermediary stages of accession negotiations, as it is promising for a smoother enlargement process to the Western Balkans, or Association Trio”, said Pisklova.

Finally, Minic focused on the perspective of the Western Balkan countries on the Ukrainian war and how it influenced their views on the enlargement.

“The conflict in Ukraine casts a long shadow over Serbia’s EU accession process, underscoring the intricate web of geopolitical dynamics in the Balkans. It serves as a stark reminder that stability and security in the region remain fragile. Additionally, it raises a critical concern that reverberates throughout the Balkans: the exodus of young people seeking opportunities abroad. As these individuals leave in search of brighter prospects, the Balkans face the risk of losing a generation, further complicating the region’s path towards stability and prosperity”, said Minic.

In the second panel, Marta Szpala, Senior Fellow at the Centre for Eastern Studies (OSW) moderated the panel “EU fit for 36?”. Ferenc Németh, Researcher from the Hungarian Institute of International Affairs (HIIA) and Alba Cela, Executive Director of the Albanian Institute for International Studies (AIIS) were speakers at the panel discussion and analysed the possibility of EU with all candidate countries as Member States.

Nemeth raised his concerns about the preparedness of EU to welcome more countries in the Union.

“The window of opportunity is closing: by the end of this year, the EU but most importantly member states must decide on how to move forward with enlargement and the future of the EU,” said Nemeth.

Cela discussed the challenges for candidate countries in the enlargement process.

“The entire success of reforms runs into a wall, and candidate country need time to recovery when the countries are faced with bilateral disputes on identity, language with Member States of EU. Then both partners lose their credibility“, said Cela.

The paper “The new reality: The Russian war on Ukraine and the Western Balkans EU accession process” is available at the following link.

The ‘Enhancing Think Balkans – knowledge hub for Western Balkans EU integration and regional cooperation” project is financially supported by the International Visegrad Fund and builds upon the previously established cooperation between the members of the Southeast European Think Net Network (SEE Think Net) and Think Visegrad as part of the ‘Regional cooperation in the Western Balkans: The Berlin Process and Visegrad Group in comparison project’ and the project “Cooperation Instrument for the Western Balkans Think Tanks – THINK BALKANS” supported by the International Visegrad Fund.

The project is implemented by Institute for Democracy (IDSCS), in collaboration with the European Movement in Serbia (EMinS), Balkan Research Institute from Kosovo*, Politikon Network from Montenegro, Albanian Institute for International Studies (AIIS) from Albania, Humanity in Action from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Centre for Eastern Studies (OSW) from Poland, Institute for Foreign Affairs and Trade (IFAT) from Hungary, the Research Centre of the Slovak Foreign Policy Association (RC SFPA) from Slovakia, and EUROPEUM Institute for European Policy (EUROPEUM) from the Czech Republic, will work in achieving the project’s goals.

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