International Information Centre for Balkan Studies

Occasional papers: volume 425 (2019) The Berlin process and the West Balkans. Interview with Luisa Chiodi and Gentiola Madhi, two researchers studying the Berlin process. Interviewer: Mario Giagnorio

Authors:Gentiola Madhi Luisa Chiodi Mario Giagnorio - Interviews

First published in:http://neweasterneurope.eu/2019/04/30/the-berlin-process-and-the-west-balkans/

The Berlin process and the West Balkans. Interview with Luisa Chiodi and Gentiola Madhi, two researchers studying the Berlin process. Interviewer: Mario Giagnorio

A famous landmark in Mostar, Bosnia Herzegovina, one of the participants of the Berlin Process Photo: Maxim Bonte (cc) flickr.com

MARIO GIAGNORIO: The diplomatic initiative aimed to support EU enlargement in the Balkans, known as the “Berlin process”, started in 2014 and continued as a series of annual meetings. What has this process achieved so far? What has changed since the Berlin Summit in 2014?

LUISA CHIODI and GENTIOLA MADHI: The Berlin process (BP) succeeded in bringing back attention to the region in times of multiple crises in the EU and after years of so-called enlargement fatigue. The achievements of the process are mostly of a political nature: to start with the proactivity of major EU member states pushed the Juncker Commission to engage more consistently with the region. Second, the BP improved communication at the diplomatic level between West Balkans (WB) leaders, as for instance with the dialogue between Albania and Serbia. Moreover, the WB leaders signed the declaration on the resolution of bilateral disputes, avoided the mutual blocking of the European path, solved three bilateral disputes (the Kosovo-Montenegro border demarcation; Macedonia’s name issue; and the Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) – Montenegro border agreement) and now a positive rapprochement is taking place between Bulgaria and North Macedonia.

What is the main goal of this process? What strategies have been adopted to achieve it?

The BP was launched as a four-year framework under German leadership, with the clear focus on physical connectivity and economic growth and with the ultimate aim to relaunch the EU integration process that was at a dangerous stalemate. The process blended together different running initiatives and available funds and streamlined them, ensuring better coordination and coherence among different interventions.

In addition, the BP launched a connectivity agenda to improve standards in the field of transport and energy, economic growth, higher competitiveness and trade exchanges, and new employment opportunities, in view of the region’s integration into the EU space. The agenda seeks to enhance competitive advantages and provide tangible results for the local populations. 20 connectivity projects have been approved so far, out of which four have commenced work on the ground. In the next few years, these projects might have significant spillover effects also in other policy areas, like procurement procedures, where the national authorities must comply with the donor’s rules and regulations. As for people-to-people connectivity, the BP launched the Regional Youth Cooperation Office (RYCO), the first regionally-owned organisation aiming to fight prejudices and bring together WB youth.

However, over the years the process suffered from an overexpansion of policy areas while the level of EU committed resources did not change (one billion euros for the period 2015-2020). As has already emerged from past experience, WB governments show slow reactivity and preferences for surface-restyling rather than in-depth reforms. Indeed these countries still cope with limited national administrative capacities, but what is worse is that they coupled this with persistent illiberal tendencies.

Why are the Balkans important to the EU?

Nowadays the importance of the Balkans for the EU is seen primarily in security and stability terms. There is a dominance of geopolitical considerations over the region, as other key players like China, Russia, Turkey and the Gulf countries show a growing interest in what is often described as the Union’s traditional backyard. Moreover, even if the EU presents itself as a normative power, nowadays it tends to act according to concrete medium- and short-term interests, such as the managing of the migrant crisis on the Balkan route, the fighting of transnational organised crime and terrorism, etc.

However, the Balkans are geographically, historically, culturally and politically part of Europe, and there exists a mutual interdependence. What is more, the Union represents a fundamental opportunity for overcoming the consequences of post-communism and the wars in the 1990s and starting a sound reconciliation process in the region.

But even in pure geopolitical terms, financial and trading relations, geographical position and political ties already make the Western Balkans a de facto part of the EU. Yet one of the fundamental problems is that for now their GDP is one-fourth of most advanced Western European countries (EBRD 2018). Full convergence could take decades, and the best scenario estimates that it will take 40 years to catch up to EU living standards. Currently industries are unable to withstand competition; foreign debt is growing; and unemployment remains high, with almost half of those under the age of 30 out of work. Instead, a bloated administration and service sector is emerging, with a low intensity of value creation. Investment is also inadequate, especially in education, research and development. The region’s external debt and all its consequences ultimately stem from the trade deficit. This deep imbalance needs to be addressed by consistently investing in convergence if we really want to ensure regional stability.

What role does civic society, and youth in particular, play in the dialogue among the Balkans states, and between the EU and the Balkans?

The Balkan civil societies may play a crucial role in the democratisation of the region. The recent protests in WB countries demonstrate the people’s ambition and willingness to fight against structural problems such as corruption, nepotism, abuse of power, and human rights violations.

On its side, the Commission regularly stresses the importance of creating an enabling framework for civil society in each country, along with their participation in the policy-making processes. Moreover, it has revisited to a certain extent its approach to membership-seeking countries and direct consultation mechanisms have been put into place between the Commission and local civil society actors. The bottom-up emergence of Civil Society Forum within the BP shows the will of these actors to engage in region-wide discussions and produce joint advocacy tools to the national/regional authorities on various policy areas.

However, the actual relationship between Brussels and Balkan social movements and bottom-up initiatives is complex. People feel that they are not backed up while confronting the misuse of power in their country and this fuels frustration. Euroscepticism in the region differs from the one we are experiencing in EU member states: it is often the reaction of a jilted lover. Civil society organisations in many cases consider the EU as an overwhelmingly important actor, and when they criticise the EU, they refer to its absence, not to its presence.

But what make things difficult is that beyond urban elites, there are wide sections of the population, especially in the countryside, that are marginalised. The rural-urban divide in the region is still very deep. Here the BP and the EU are not even in sight.

According to the 2018 Eurobarometer, enlargement is supported by a minority of EU citizens, about 44 per cent. Has this attitude affected the process so far?

The attitude of European citizens has an impact on political elites that justify their caution with popular hostility towards new enlargement. This has been the case for instance in 2018 when the Council decided to postpone the opening of negotiation with North Macedonia and Albania. The Commission had advocated in favour of the two countries but few member states pulled the brake.

Therefore, the popular support of member states is central for enlargement, but it has been long neglected. The last time the EU invested in public information campaigns on the enlargement process was 2011. Based on the Brexit experience, information is key, so the EU should change its current approach.

At the moment the WB are involved in a few funding programmes such as Horizon 2020, the Europe for citizens programme, the Right, Equality and Citizenship Programme (REC) . Additional opportunities should be created so as to build multiple bridges between WB and EU civil societies and professional categories. Human connectivity can be simultaneously encouraged both at the regional and European levels as a mutually reinforcing process.

We are now nearing elections to the European Parliament. Do you think changes within EU institutions will have an effect on the process?

I still hope that the EU will not be deeply affected by the result of the coming elections but the problem for the WB is deeper anyway: there are many political actors belonging to the whole political spectrum that show hostility towards new enlargements.

The fact that the Commission decided to postpone the publication of the WB country reports from April to 29 May in order not to influence the voting process is not a good sign. Similarly, the exclusion of the Western Balkans from the Sibiu Summit (which will take place in May 2019 and was arranged by the Romanian EU presidency) confirms once again that the hour for building momentum in this region has already passed.

Is the Balkan region at risk of being a victim of the problems that are now affecting the EU?

For sure the weakening of the European project does not help the Balkans. The rising debate among the populist, radical and extremist political parties on threats deriving from migration and organised crime in the Balkans contributes to the alienation of the region and certainly does not help to improve its image in the eyes of EU citizens. This undermines their future EU perspective as well as the achievements that the EU has built so far in the region.

On the other hand, the increased debate around a multi-speed EU paradoxically can help the enlargement process in the short run. The six WB countries have a long way to go before they can be integrated and in the meantime they could be involved in more programmes, policy areas, agreements, etc.

The widespread opposition towards the new enlargements is associated with the member states’ failures to implement certain EU policies, such as the relocation of asylum seekers in 2016. If agreements reached via qualified majority voting are ruled out, then only enhanced cooperation, coalitions of the willings and the like can be used to take the EU out of its crisis. In this context the WB countries might be able to join single policies, to establish agreements and to get out of the ghetto in which they are confined.

On the other hand, South Eastern European member states such as Romania and Bulgaria already lament their condition as second-class members and a multi-speed EU will worsen their situation, risking the creation of a ring of non compliant states, something that in turn might continue to weaken the Union.

The so-called migration crisis has had a very large effect on the EU. It also had a strong Balkan component with the “Balkan route”. What do you think will happen in regards to this in the near future?

On the one hand, the crisis in the Middle East as well as the migration flow along the Balkan route changed the lenses through which the EU looks at the Balkans and contributed to their return to the stage of EU foreign policy for security reasons.

On the other hand, what is worrisome is the outsourcing of the management of migration that condemns fragile countries such as BiH to the role of border fence. The current situation on the Croatian-Bosnian border needs to be urgently tackled: here the Croatian authorities illegally and brutally push back to BiH thousands of the people, denying them the right to seek international protection. But BiH cannot possibly deal with this dramatic situation alone. It is clearly irresponsible but also stupid on the side of the EU as a whole to leave the burden on the most precarious country among the post-war Balkans.

Gentiola Madhi has graduated from the College of Europe (Bruges), University of Florence and European College of Parma in International Relations and European Studies. She works as policy researcher, with a particular focus on regional cooperation and Europeanisation of the Western Balkan countries. Since 2015, she has been engaged in monitoring and advocacy activities within the Berlin Process framework.

Luisa Chiodi has a PhD from the European University Institute of Fiesole (Florence), a degree in Political Science at the University of Milan and is the director of Osservatorio Balcani e Caucaso since 2006. She has lectured at universities both in Italy and abroad. Her research interests focus on civil society and the transnational social dynamics of post-communism.

Mario Giagnorio is an Italian MA student at the Centre for European Studies at the Jagiellonian University in Kraków and an editorial intern with New Eastern Europe.

China "has 10 projects for Serbia worth 100s of millions"

China has a package of at least 10 major infrastructure projects ready for Serbia, worth dozens, if not hundreds of millions of dollars.

 MARCH 25, 2019

Belgrade daily Srpski Telegraf reported this on Saturday.

The Ikarbus investment, which will make Serbia one of the first European countries to produce electric buses and electric vans, is just the beginning, the article, quoted by Tanjug, continued. 

The Chinese investments will be agreed in detail when the presidents of China and Serbia Xi Jinping and Aleksandar Vucic meet in Beijing at a global Belt and Road conference in late April. 

"They (China) have inquired very cautiously and in great detail for months, picking projects, negotiating, laying the groundwork and sending expert teams until they made sure their millions will be in safe hands in Serbia," a source in the Serbian government told Srpski Telegraf. 

The source added that Serbians could witness the seriousness of China's approach to business when they invested in RTB Bor (copper mines and smelter) and the Smederevo steel mill. 

"Good economic relations, as well as the friendship between the two countries' presidents have contributed to investors entrusting us with as many as ten new investment projects. Everything is ready, they just remain to be signed," the newspaper's source said. 

The Chinese have announced earlier that they will invest as much as USD 10 billion in South-Eastern Europe within the said Belt and Road conference.

Source: https://www.b92.net/eng/news/business.php?yyyy=2019&mm=03&dd=25&nav_id=106479

Russia adopts document on NATO's 1999 attack against Serbia

Russia has adopted a document on the 20th anniversary of the start of the NATO bombing of the the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro).



Tanjug is reporting on Wednesday, citing Sputnik, that the text states that "the initiators of this crime must be held responsible."

According to the document adopted by the Federation Council (Upper House) of the Russian Parliament, NATO's military operation reflected negatively on further development of mutual relations and confidence of European states, while the impunity of those responsible has led to new tragedies: in Syria, Iraq, and Libya. 

Unfortunately, the lessons have not been learned, and NATO continued to use military force against other sovereign states - Iraq, Libya and Syria, today threatening Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua with the same. 

Russian senators recall that NATO used ammunition filled with depleted uranium in the bombing of Yugoslavia, which caused numerous casualties among civilians. 

In addition, the recognition of Kosovo's independence, which followed in 2008 by a series of western countries, "represented only a continuation of what NATO had begun - support of separatism and conflict in the territory of the former Yugoslavia." 

The Federation Council also claims that the de facto secession of Kosovo and Metohija is a precedent in international relations, which has made it extremely complicated to resolve existing conflicts in cases involving unrecognized states, especially given the fact that the West is acting in a completely opposite manner when it comes to Moldova, Georgia, and Ukraine. 

It is also added that the NATO military operation was an act of aggression against a sovereign state and that therefore the initiators of this crime should be held accountable. 

In this regard, the Council called on parliaments of countries all over the world, as well as international organizations such as the UN, the Commonwealth of Independent States, the Collective Security Treaty Organization, the OSCE and the European Parliament to condemn NATO's aggression and take all steps to remedy the consequences.


Source: https://www.b92.net/eng/news/world.php?yyyy=2019&mm=03&dd=13&nav_id=106403

Serbia to hold military parade on anniversary of NATO attack

Aleksandar Vucic says the 20th anniversary of the start of NATO's bombing will be marked with a special religious prayer, moleban, and a military parade.



"It's been 20 years since NATO's aggression on one sovereign country, which was not guided only by bombs from the air, it was done almost by any means - political, media," the president told RTS on Tuesday.

He pointed out that it was not only a matter "bombing" - because that was just a technical term. Instead what happened was an aggression on a sovereign country, which did not deserve it any way, but suffered terrible sacrifices. 

"Serbia, despite the fact that it was not conducting the smartest and the wisest of policies, did nothing to deserve that and is not responsible for NATO's aggression," while the terrible suffering the country faced - "from (killed toddlers) Milica and Sara, to many soldiers and policemen who died only for protecting the law." 

"We will (on March 24), in a dignified manner, in the evening ,be in Nis, which was attacked several times, exactly on the anniversary, to address the citizens. It will be a state manifestation, with a moleban that will be led by Patriarch Irinej and the bishops of the Serbian Church," he stressed. 

He added that before that, a military parade will be organized in Nis, where citizens will be able to see 1,500 special purpose soldiers, equipped according to the latest standards, eight to ten MiG-29s, and 19 new helicopters. 

"Serbia is seriously strengthening, its security, its safety. That is the foundation of further consolidation of our state," Vucic said, adding that the program of building new housing for members of the military, the police, and the BIA will continue, as well as work on increasing their wages. 

The president called on the residents of Nis, and those living in the south and south-east of Serbia, to "come and see their army" on the day.


Source: https://www.b92.net/eng/news/politics.php?yyyy=2019&mm=03&dd=12&nav_id=106397

Serbia and EAEU harmonize free trade deal

A Serbian delegation headed by Minister of Trade Rasim Ljajic is in Moscow.

 TUESDAY, MARCH 12, 2019 

Ljajic is expected to finalize a deal on free trade between Serbia and the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), Vecernje Novosti daily writes.

If a deal is reached, Serbia will be able to export certain quotas of cheese, cigarettes and fruit brandies duty free. 

A deal has been thwarted by Belarus, which opposed a 1,000 ton quota for cheese. 

Ljajic on Tuesday meet with EAEU Minister of Trade Veronika Nikishina for a final round of talks on an FTA. 

He later said that in the deal harmonized today, Serbia "did not get everything it wanted, but will have more duty free goods than before." 

Ljajic specified that quotas of 2,000 tons of cigarettes, 87,000 liters of vinjak (liquor) and 500 tons of semi-hard and hard cow milk cheese had been approved - while other kinds of cheeses are already in the duty-free regime. 

EAEU members include Russia, Kyrgyzstan, Belarus, Armenia and Kazakhstan.


Source: https://www.b92.net/eng/news/business.php?yyyy=2019&mm=03&dd=12&nav_id=106396

Serbia-Russia trade reaches USD 3.6 billion annually

 FRIDAY, MARCH 8, 2019

Serbian Foreing Minister and First Deputy PM Ivica Dacic said this Thursday, adding that the 2018 trade volume had been 3.6 billion dollars - 500 million more than in 2017, Tanjug is reporting.

"Our exports account for one billion of that sum," Dacic said after a meeting of an intergovernmental committee on trade, economic and scientific and technical cooperation, which he co-chaired with Russian Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Borisov. 

Dacic said Serbian agricultural exports to Russia had totalled around 350 million dollars last year and that the committee had discussed ways of improving bilateral trade relations, the coordination of a FTA with the Eurasian Economic Union, as well as Serbia's WTO accession talks. 

Expansion of gas transport infrastructure and providing gas to every part of the country is crucial to Serbia, "which means that TurkStream must run through Serbia," he said.


Serbian-Russian bilateral trade volume has been on a rise over the past several years and the goal is to reach the 2008 level of 4 billion dollars.


Source: https://www.b92.net/eng/news/business.php?yyyy=2019&mm=03&dd=08&nav_id=106369




Eurogroup meeting on Greece ends fruitless

 A Eurogroup meeting ended in Brussels on 26.01.2017 evening without reaching an agreement on the crucial bailout program review and with no agreed schedule for the return of creditors to Athens.

Read more: Eurogroup meeting on Greece ends fruitless

Slovenia Preparing for Arbitration Ruling on Border with Croatia

Despite Croatia’s decision to withdraw from arbitration proceedings, Slovenia prepares for the verdict.

Read more: Slovenia Preparing for Arbitration Ruling on Border with Croatia

Russia, Turkey, Iran to meet in Moscow on Syria

Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, Russian FM Sergei Lavrov and Iranian counterpart Javad Zarif are due to hold tripartite talks on the Syria conflict in Moscow on Dec. 20, 2016 to discuss Aleppo and the wider Syrian crisis, an official from Turkey’s Foreign Ministry said.

Read more: Russia, Turkey, Iran to meet in Moscow on Syria

13 soldiers killed, 56 wounded in attack in Turkey's Kayseri

A total of 56 people were being treated in hospital after a car bomb attack on a bus in the central Turkish city of Kayseri on Dec.17, 2016, Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu said, an attack the military has said killed 13.

Read more: 13 soldiers killed, 56 wounded in attack in Turkey's Kayseri

Dacic Defends Serbian Arms Deal with Russia

Serbia's Foreign Minister hailed an arms deal with Russia, dismisses potential EU opposition to it, and launches a stinging attack on Croatia, accusing it of building up weapons for an attack on Serbia.

Read more: Dacic Defends Serbian Arms Deal with Russia

Montenegro MPs to Vote on New Government amid Boycott

Parliament will vote on Montenegro’s new government despite a boycott by MPs from the opposition, which is also threatening protest rallies against alleged election fraud.

Montenegro's parliament convenes on Monday to approve a new cabinet of ministers although opposition MPs are boycotting the legislature and refusing to recognise the results of last month’s general election, alleging vote-rigging.

Read more: Montenegro MPs to Vote on New Government amid Boycott

Новый удар по планам США и Турции: Иран открывает курдам «второе дыхание»

28 октября 2016 года в современной трагедии Ирака, Сирии и курдов была перевернута интереснейшая страница, и может статься, что в дальнейшем мы увидим прообраз новейшей географии региона.

Read more: Новый удар по планам США и Турции: Иран открывает курдам «второе дыхание»

Republic of Bulgaria

National Assembly (Oct. 5, 2014)

Read more: Republic of Bulgaria

isn eth zurichBSAdsNATOCentral and Eastern European Online LibraryEurActiv | European Union Information Website