The European Union and the Western Balkans: Moving apart or together?

On 28 September 2018, Foreign Policy Initiative BH (FPI BH, Sarajevo), in cooperation with the Austro-French Centre for Rapprochement in Europe (CFA/ÖFZ, Vienna), Centre international de formation européenne (CIFE, Nice/Berlin), with the support of and in cooperation with the Open Regional Fund for SEE – Promotion of EU Integration (German Cooperation / GIZ), Institut français des relations internationales (IFRI, Paris), Istituto Affari Internazionali (IAI, Rome), and German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP, Brussels) and the European Commission (Erasmus+-Programme), had organized a Conference titled The European Union and the Western Balkans: Moving apart or together?. The Conference was organized in framework of the Austrian Presidency of the Council of the European Union.

After years out of the radar, the Western Balkans now seem to be back on the agenda of the EU. The new Enlargement Strategy, issued in February 2018 and the EU-Western Balkans Summit convened in Sofia in May 2018, fifteen years after the Thessaloniki Declaration, both tentatively illustrate the new impetus given by the EU to its enlargement policy. The new dynamic that may be emerging builds on four years of Berlin process. After Berlin, Vienna, Paris and Trieste, a new Western Balkans Summit took place in this framework in London, in July 2018. What has been the overall contribution of the Berlin process so far and what support can it deliver in the future? Is the new impetus indicative of more credible enlargement perspectives for the countries of the region? In the region, progress remains hesitant at best, especially with regards to democracy, rule of law, good governance, economic development and good neighbourly relations. Weaknesses in these areas persist in spite of the prevailing commitment to EU accession declared by most political parties in the region. And they do not disappear even after accession -as shown in neighbouring EU Member States.

At the beginning of his address, H.E.., Mr. Martin Pammer, Ambassador of the Republic of Austria in BiH, of a country which is currently presiding over the EU Council, stated how the entire Europe, as well as this region are facing many challenges and tasks that need to be fulfilled. He added that a necessary step forward, which is in the interest of all the citizens, can be taken. In that context, he has invited the politicians to focus the dialogue more on the reforms rather than on the nationalistic rhetoric in the wake of the October general elections in BiH.

Lejla Ramić Mesihović, the director of Foreign Policy Initiative BH had underlined how it is necessary to reaffirm the accession of the Western Balkan countries in the EU, because, now that the EU is facing internal reform, Brexit and the EU Parliament elections, it is of utmost importance to keep the topic of enlargement on the EU agenda as something which is relevant and credible. In Bosnia and Herzegovina there is a lack of political awareness of how important it is to offer quality answers to additional questions from the European Commission’s Questionnaire. Without that, there will be no Avis, let alone a candidate status for BiH.

Speaking of regional cooperation, Simonida Kacarska, director of the European Policy Institute from Skopje had especially pointed out the necessity of cooperation and trade integration which are of relevance to all of the citizens of the Western Balkans.

Conference Participants were the representatives of diplomatic corps in BiH, Delegation of the EU in BiH, BiH Directorate for European Integration, representatives of BiH institutions, academic community and civil society organizations. They have all agreed that this conference was an excellent opportunity for the representatives of the region and the EU to discuss whether regional cooperation is something Western Balkan countries truly need or is it just a condition for European integration. Rule of law, and continuity in adopting and implementing legislation is still pointed out as the most important aspect  for the economic growth of the countries in the region.

"Europska unija i Zapadni Balkan: kretanje istim putem ili razilaženje?“

Western Balkans 2030 – Visions, Wishes, Realities…

Davor Vuletić, president of the FPI BH Assembly was a panelist at a regional economic conference in Belgrade titled Western Balkans 2030 – Visions, Wishes, Realities…

He used this opportunity to point out that the Western Balkans (WB) economies are, for the most part, part of the EU economy due to the expansion of the EU legislative framework to the WB which influences the modalities of economic development of this region such as technical standards, competition and state aid legislation.  EU integration is the basic vector of movement for the region, and trade with the EU is dominant, however, potentials of developing economic relations and more intense business cooperation with China, Russia and Turkey.

Development of transport and energy infrastructure by 2030 could have a pivotal role in the development of the region with smart investments in research and education.  The train of thought in the EU member countries is similar to this. Vision of the Western Balkans for 2030 is a full EU membership, yet in economic sense, Western Balkans could remain the outskirts of the EU due to its low competitiveness when compared to the more developed EU member states.

The Conference participants were representatives of political life, regional initiatives, international organizations, German and regional businesses and civil society organizations.

Analysis: Effects of Stabilization and Association Agreements and CEFTA2006 on WB6 European Integration and Regional Cooperation: Achievements and Ways Forward

On 10 September 2018, Foreign Policy initiative BH had organized a presentation of the regional analysis titled  Effects of Stabilization and Association Agreements and CEFTA2006 on WB6 European Integration and Regional Cooperation: Achievements and Ways Forward.

Lejla Ramić Mesihović, director of FPI BH had presented the main findings of the analysis/research for BiH as well for all of the other countries in the region. She pointed out that this was an extensive research composed of two parts and containing 460 pages. The first part analyses the effects of the SAAs for Macedonia, Albania and Serbia, while the other part brings the analysis of the effects of CEFTA2006 on all of the six WB countries.

The president of the FPI BH Assembly, Mr. Davor Vuletić, has pointed out that in BiH political situation presents a great challenge, and that even though other countries in the region have had politically turbulent times, they had also had a longer stabilization period, while BiH continuously suffers the process of political destabilization which influences the work of the institutions and the forming of the legislative framework  for better functioning of BiH within CEFTA.

Next to the Foreign Policy Initiative, those participating in the production of this analysis were European Movement in Serbia which was the coordinator of this entire project, European Movement of Montenegro, Institute Riinvest from Priština, Institute for International Studies from Albania and European Policy Institute from Skoplje.

The presentation of this analysis was organized within the scope of the Project : Effects of Stabilization and Association Process Instruments on WB6 European Integrations and Regional Cooperation: what has been achieved so far and ways forward. The project has been realized with financial support of the Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany in Serbia and Open Society Institute Fund.

Analiza: "Utjecaji Sporazuma o stabilizaciji i pridruživanju te CEFTA2006 na proces europskih integracija zemalja ZB6 i na regionalnu suradnju: Postignuća i put naprijed."

Reaction to proposals presented at the Alpbach forum on new perspectives of the EU enlargement process

The so called ‘historic’ discussion between Serbia’s president, Aleksandar Vučić, and Kosovo’s president, Hashim Thaçi at the European Forum Alpbach in Austria that proposes an exchange of territories between two countries is not a landmark move towards future, but a huge step back deep into the past. Without going into the merits of the proposal and whether it would actually resolve ancient disputes between Serbia and Kosovo, we feel a need to send a warning about the implications of any re-drawing of borders for other countries in the region.

The retrograde ideas of redrawing borders would be devastating for the peace and stability in the region. The alleged tacit support of main international players to this idea is even more devastating, and strongly reminisces of the international inertia towards the conflict in Bosnia and Herzegovina in early 1990s. The silence of the EU Commissioner Johannes Hahn in the same panel was painfully symbolic of the EU’s role during the conflict in Bosnia and Herzegovina in the 1990s.

Any proposal to change borders and exchange territories in the Balkans is not cosmetic and it would be naïve to believe that such proposal could be contained to ‘small’ territories which the change would directly affect. Voices of former European diplomats in the Balkans and experts who have in recent weeks supported this idea through international media blatantly ignore history and facts by suggesting that new divisions would be part of a solution and not part of a problem. Any border change in the Balkans is not solution, it is a blueprint for new disasters. Even having to say this after everything the region has been through over the past 25 years feels surreal and unbelievable.

We thus appeal to international actors to recognize the hazardous rhetoric that invokes uncertainty that has led before this region to disastrous consequences. We appeal to you not to hide behind the pragmatism of EU integration, and instead distinguish between fallacy and facts. Delusions that ethnically ‘pure’ entities or nation states are a solution for this region are not new – their actual engineers have already been convicted in The Hague, and the victims of those ideas lie buried throughout this region. We refuse to accept the idea that there is no other choice but to divide existing states and societies along ethnic lines. And we would note that recent history shows that such divisions cannot be implemented peacefully. To ignore this, we would need to forget the experience of the 20th century with ethnic cleansing and the forced movement of people. To accept this argument would be to turn a blind eye to the genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes of the 1990s.

It is a logical fallacy that, with initial round of political divisions having failed to appease nationalist passions in the region, another round will somehow do the job. Instead, as should be obvious to any discerning reader of history and politics, championing divisions simply creates new cleavage lines in the region. The facts and arguments that prove that ethnic cleansing and creation of ‘pure’ nation-states is a bad idea have been overly presented in numerous publications and conferences over the past 25 years. Many of us have devoted most of our professional lives providing such facts and evidence so that new generations can remember how dangerous the nationalist rhetoric is, and how it can lead to projects that risks thousands of lives being lost. The facts are out there – in history books, in academic publications, and not least in court judgments.

We take this opportunity to remind the international community of those facts, to appeal to you to stay on the side of maintaining peace in the Balkans. Peace in the Balkans is your legacy – please preserve it. Please take into account the wider regional context, the threats to stability in Bosnia and Herzegovina and the decades long undermining of its institutions, and continued claims for autonomy of one of its parts. Part of that context is the glorification of war criminals in all countries in the region, as well as the nationalist radicalisation in Croatia. There are individuals in all Balkan societies who still cherish the notions of greater, ethnically ‘pure’ nation-states. Many of them do so for purely opportunistic reasons, attempting to hide the bankruptcy of their political vision behind the ideology of nationalism. It is the job of democracy to keep those individuals on margins of our societies. And it is the job of democratizers to keep democracy on track, to keep divisive ideas on margins by preserving and promoting facts, and to persistently promote the norms and values of democratic societies. It is your job!

Re-drawing borders is anti-civilizational, it is an attempt re-write history, and to re-introduce alleged Huntingtonian clashes to our societies at a point when many of us in civil society are investing efforts to sustain the motion in the opposite direction. Such proposals undermine multiculturalism and multi-ethnicity as values upon which history and future of our societies must rest, upon which Europe still rests.

If division to nation states is a blue print for the Balkans, is it a blueprint for European states too – for Belgium, the Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom? Although this is a rhetorical question, the answer is still clear – it is a blueprint for new conflicts. We are appalled by the implied pretence that a proposal with such content could be seen as benign in a global context that has already been tarred by rising xenophobia, radicalism, extremism, and divisive rhetoric.

We urge the European Union and all its institutions, NATO, the United States and other individual players to distance yourself from the ideas expressed in Alpbach. By propagating ideas which could entail a return to massive human rights violations, ethnic cleansing and the rewarding of extreme nationalist forces, and being based on dubious claims and few facts, you are endorsing the darkest policies pursued in the Balkans over the past decades.

Policy analysis: “European (Re)Connection of the Balkans – The Search for new Modalities of Cooperation””

Foreign Policy Initiative BH, in cooperation with Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung BiH and BiH Foreign Trade Chamber organized the presentation of policy analysis “European (Re)Connection of the Balkans – the Search for new Modalities of Cooperation” by Igor Kosić on 25 June 2018. The aim of the analysis was to highlight the importance of the regional cooperation of six Western Balkans countries, on the achievements made so far, but also on the challenges and obstacles which are before them in the European integration process. The analysis of CEFTA as a platform for regional trade integration from the perspective of Bosnia and Herzegovina was followed by the presentation of the Regional Economic Area and the Multi-annual Action Plan.

The new initiatives and funding by the EU present new opportunities to return the focus to structural socioeconomic reforms and analyze obligations stemming from the Multi-annual action plan for the Regional economic area in the area of trade, investments, mobility and digital integration, stated the author of the analysis, Igor Kosić.

The panelists, Adnan Muminović, Economic Advisor with the Office of the EU Special Representative in BiH, Amila Šehić, representative of BiH Foreign Trade Chamber from the Macro-economy Department and Lejla Ramić-Mesihović, FPI BH director in their comments highlighted the experience and preconditions for better regional cooperation and underlined that the removing of non-trade tariffs would increase the growth potential of BiH and the region.

The Vice-President of BiH Foreign Trade Chamber Bruno Bojić addressed the participants and stated that the progress on European integration process is important in order to connect the trade societies, but also that Bosnia and Herzegovina’s trade with the countries of the region is more than 70%.

Evropska (re)konekcija Balkana

Messages from the Western Balkans: Rule of Law at the Core of the EU Integration Process

Proposal of practical policy which contains 12 recommendations for invigorating the EU integration process was presented in Belgrade on June 21st at the international conference “Messages from the Western Balkans”. Lejla Ramić-Mesihović, Foreign Policy Initiative BH Director presented the results of the research for Bosnia and Herzegovina and commented on the current EU integration process in the country and the region.

Vice-President of the European Movement in Serbia, Vladimir Međak said that the study is based on two principles – that there is a desire for enlargement within the EU and that there is willingness in the Western Balkan countries to do the reform processes which would enable them to join the Union.

“The core of the problem is that the existing framework is not good. The way the negotiations are being held has turned from a one-ended to a never-ending process and it must be clearly stated”, Međak stated.

German ambassador to Serbia, Axel Ditman stated he is pleased the embassy was able to finance the project within which the 12 recommendations were produced: “Our two key recommendation are that we remain committed to the merit-based Euro-Atlantic integration of the region , and that the key of the process are internal reforms within candidate countries, especially the rule of law.”

Representatives of six civil society organizations from the region presented the Study about the effects of the CEFTA Agreement and the Stabilization and Association Agreement for the reform process in the Western Balkan countries and the effects of CEFTA and SAA agreements on the reform processes.

European Movement Serbia was the project coordinator, while European Movement from Montenegro, Foreign Policy Initiative BH from Sarajevo, Institute Riinvest from Pristina, Institute for international studies from Albania and European Policy Institute from Skopje were project partners.

The international conference was organized within the project Effects of SAP instruments on WB6 European Integrations and Regional Cooperation, with financial support of the German Embassy in Serbia and Open Society Foundation.

Repercussions of frozen conflicts for regional stability in the Western Balkans

In the new position paper, Foreign Policy Initiative BH looks at the current bilateral and multilateral relations in the Western Balkans in line of forthcoming high level meetings and the new EU enlargement strategy.

What do “frozen conflicts” and “Balkanization” mean in the Balkans and what in the EU?

Repercussions of frozen conflicts for regional stability in the Western Balkans

Call for applications: WeBER project focus groups

Foreign Policy Initiative BH, within the project Western Balkans Enabling Project for Civil Society Monitoring of Public Administration Reform”- WeBER is organizing focus groups with candidates that applied on open calls in BiH institutions (on the state level) in the last two years.

All interested candidates are invited to apply to and send their contact information (email and phone number), position and the institution where they applied.

Focus group will be held in FPI BH premises during May.  The number of participants is limited, all individuals who wish to participate need to submit an application. Detailed logistical information will be forwarded to all candidates that submitted an application.

Please feel free to contact us for additional information.


Promotion of Rule of Law in the Western Balkans: Is BiH Prepared to Open Negotiations with the EU?

Foreign Policy Initiative BH organized a panel discussion “Promotion of Rule of Law in the Western Balkans: Is BiH Prepared to Open Negotiations with the EU?” in Sarajevo on March 29th. The event was organized as part of the regional project implemented within Think for Europe Network “Benchmarking for EU Reform- How Effective? BENCHER”.

The event panelists, Nedžma Džananović-Miraščija from the Faculty of Political Science of Sarajevo University, Inela Hadžimešić, from the Initiative for Monitoring of EU Integrations and  Lejla Ramić-Mesihović, Director of Foreign Policy Initiative BH  highlighted the importance of more credible reform processes within the rule of law in order for BiH to progress in the EU integration process.

Lejla Ramić-Mesihović presented the key conclusions and recommendations of the country analysis for BiH done as part of the project, the title of which indicates that the next steps in the EU integration process will lead to the “masks falling off” and that the relevant institutions will have to be more accountable. The panelists agreed that the involvement of the civil society and the expert academia is necessary in order to widen the discourse on these topics, exert pressure and monitor the work of the institutions and that the reforms cannot be only declarative.

Highlighting the regional aspect of the project, it was underlined that the problems BiH faces are not unique and that they are shared by majority of the Western Balkan countries, which is why the approach of the international community and the European Union in developing of benchmarks and conditionality need to take into account such circumstances in order to be more effective.

During the discussion, the importance of joint activities by all stakeholder involved in the process in order to support the reform processes was pointed out. The event was attended by representatives of institutions, political parties, civil society organizations and international institutions.

The project is financed by the European Fund for the Western Balkans and Open Society Fund.

Concretization of the EU Integration Process: Masks Will Fall Off (Benchmarking in BiH)

Reforming from the Bench-Marking Offside (regional analysis)


Zagovaranje i promocija vladavine prava na zapadnom Balkanu: Koliko je BiH spremna za otvaranje pregovarackih poglavlja?

Public Administration Reform in BiH: Seminar for Representatives of WeBER NWG

Foreign Policy Initiative BH, in cooperation with SIGMA/OECD organized a seminar for representatives of National Working Group within WeBER project in order to present the monitoring results of Public Administration Reform in BiH by SIGMA as well as the first monitoring results of the WeBER project.

The event was attended by representatives of CSOs from BiH which form the National Working Group for monitoring of PAR on the local level and the representatives of organizations which implement projects supported by the Small Grant Facility for monitoring PAR on the local level by the WeBER project. Chloe Berger, Head of Operations for Justice, Home Affairs and Public Administration Reform from the Delegation of the European Union in BiH gave the introductory remarks and highlighted the important of inclusion of the civil society in the reform processes.

Primož Vehar, Brian Finn and Marian Lemke, SIGMA experts, presented the Monitoring Report for BiH for 2017 in the six areas of Public Administration Principles. Anida Šabanović, WeBER researcher presented the first monitoring results of the project. Members of WeBER platform, Transparency International BiH and Centre for Investigative Journalism as well as the WeBER grantees presented their projects and their monitoring results. Vedrana Faladžić and Aneta Raić from the BiH Public Administration Reform Coordinator’s Office presented the institution’s current activities in the sector as well as the ongoing development of the new Strategic framework for PAR in BiH.

Predstavljanje SIGMA/OECD i WeBER monitoring izvjestaja