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Friday, 8 June 2018

The Berlin Process on its way to the London Summit

This presentation followed and built on SEESOX’s research, seminars and workshops on the Berlin Process including, among others, a panel discussion in Oxford on 14 February, and a day workshop held in Thessaloniki on 16 March in cooperation with the British Embassy in Athens.

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 July London will host the annual Summit of the Process. The Process had been launched in 2014. Back then, Chancellor Merkel was concerned by Russian action in the Crimea, socio-economic unrest in the Balkans, and protests in Bosnia-Herzegovina; and launched the initiative whereby a group of member states would focus on the region, and revitalise the waning process of European integration. The core agenda was economic connectivity, regional cooperation and civil society (the UK wished to concentrate also on security). 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, and the exclusion of some neighbouring South East European states.

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 geo-economic 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 under-funded. 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; whether security was really a core part of the process; lack of accountability and monitoring in the Berlin Process; and how well it really hung together.

David Madden (St Antony's College)

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