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Friday, 8 June 2018

The Berlin Process and the London Summit

SEESOX held events in Oxford, Thessaloniki and London in advance of the London Summit on 10/11 July.

On 14 February, we had a panel discussion in Oxford on “The Berlin Process: a bridge between the Western Balkans and the EU?” Tobias Flessenkemper considered the Process as a response to the brakes put on EU accession; Goran Svilanović its positive contribution to enhanced intraregional cooperation; Spyros Economides the need to look beyond “hard” security to developmental issues as a foundation for reconciliation and defence against organised crime and corruption; James Ker-Lindsay the limited relevance of the UK to the region outside any security agenda; Andrew Page to confirm the UK’s strong interest in stability in the region and its relevance to the UK’s national security agenda; and Marika Djolai underlining the welcome growing involvement and centrality of civil society in the Process.
On 5 June, we had a joint event with the GSF in London. David Madden commented that 2018 was the year of the Western Balkans. In January the House of Lords published their report. On 6 February the European Commission set out their enlargement perspective for the region. This included specific initiatives, an action plan, and even an indicative date- 2025: though certain member states did not favour enlargement, and there were opposition to importing bilateral disputes. In 2014 Chancellor Merkel, concerned by Russian action in the Crimea and socio-economic unrest in the Balkans, launched the Berlin Process to revitalise the waning process of European integration. The core agenda was economic connectivity, regional cooperation and civil society. It had got the largest countries of the EU involved, and ensured an annual focus on the priorities for the Western Balkans. But some questioned the inclusion of the UK and Poland next year.

Othon Anastasakis described three levels of engagement between the EU and the Western Balkans: the accession process, the Berlin Process, and security integration. He concentrated on the last. The threats included radicalisation/ fundamentalism, organised crime and corruption, unsolved border disputes, and the securitisation of migration. External actors such as Russia, Turkey and China were adding a geo-political and geoeconomic challenge. But he pointed to the risks of exaggerating security challenges during the London summit, and in particular the threats from Russia within the security agenda itself.

Adis Merdzanovic addressed the rule of law. The UK had two problems in hosting the London Summit: Brexit, and lack of influence in the region. So the UK should concentrate on a strength: the rule of law; not understood as a legal principle alone, but also as a social norm. The rule of law meant freedom from the tyrannies of fear, the few and the majority. The UK had a centuries-old credibility, dating back to Magna Carta; and should focus on the individual, the flexible, and the honest. All this would support the region’s EU perspective.

Jessie Hronesova commented on the difficulties when civil society was either over-funded from outside, or underfunded. Also, there was a tendency to pile too much on the shoulders of civil society. The inclusion of civil society in the Process had been evolutionary. It offered society a voice, networking and platforming opportunities. The shortcomings were lack of communications strategy (as elsewhere in the Process), duplication of effort, and lack of a structured approach and prioritisation.

Discussion covered: UK involvement despite Brexit; Russian role in the region; youth unemployment; the slow pace of economic convergence; lack of accountability and monitoring in the Process; and how well it really hung together.

David Madden (St Antony's College, Oxford)

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