On 9 September 2015, CEPI in partnership with the European Fund for the Balkans (EFB) hosted an informal policy briefing on the Western Balkans Vienna Summit 2015 and its follow-up, including potential synergies with the EU enlargement process. Chaired by CEPI’s Director Milan Nič, it featured three speakers: Johann Sattler (Federal Ministry for Europe, Integration and Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Austria), Roman Hlobeň (Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs of the Slovak Republic), Igor Bandović (EFB).
The Vienna summit held on 27 August 2015 was part of the Berlin Process framework, initiated by the German Chancellor Merkel last year, as the additional impetus for EU enlargement in the South East Europe. It covered three key areas: regional cooperation, connectivity and civil society. The development of regional cooperation looks promising not only because of the recent progress in resolving bilateral issues between Serbia and Kosovo, and the signing of milestone border agreements (Montenegro-Kosovo and Montenegro-Bosnia and Herzegovina), but also because of the Balkan governments’ declared commitment to not block each other’s way to the EU accession. Secondly, concerning the connectivity dimension, it facilitated new investment into transport and energy infrastructure projects. Lastly, it was included youth mobility programmes and civil society element.
In this turbulent times, when huge numbers of refugees are arriving via the Balkan route to the EU and the conflict in Ukraine is still hot, it is going to be crucial for the EU to continue steering the enlargement process in order to retain its credibility and leverage in the region.
One of the main challenges will be to keep this positive agenda on track. Also, potential synergies between the Berlin Process and the forth-coming Slovak EU Presidency in the second half of 2016 were discussed. In conclusion, panelists agreed that the Ukraine conflict and its geopolitical implications has reengaged the EU in the Western Balkans, and the enlargement process is in better shape than one year ago when it was going on auto-pilot.