EUROPEAN INTEGRATION IN THE WESTERN BALKANS
REGIONAL COOPERATION AND EUROPEAN PERSPECTIVES
27 April 2015, Tirana
The promotion of regional cooperation in the Western Balkans is a keystone of the enlargement policy of the European Union. For good reasons! Its purpose is to increase the political stability, security and economic prosperity of a region characterized by the fragmentation of territories and the resurgence of nationalism. Indeed, the Balkan space is home to a mosaic of peoples, often attaching more importance to differences between them than resemblances. The divisions do not only run along state borders; they operate within Western Balkan states too, threatening to undermine the political stability, security and economic prosperity of the Western Balkans. Because the problems they entail often require collective responses, intensifying regional cooperation is paramount. What assessment can we make of regional cooperation in the Western Balkans, both at the political and economic level?
Improving regional cooperation is not an easy task for a region marked by two decades of disintegration. To support them in this venture, the Western Balkan states can nevertheless build on a common objective they pursue: joining the European Union (EU). The EU and its member states have been engaged in the region through its enlargement policy for many years now and it actively promotes regional cooperation. What impact has European integration had in this area? What challenges should it further address? Can the Process of Berlin, or other regional initiatives, contribute to overcome the divisions of the past?
Although it does not fully share the history of its northern ex-Yugoslav neighbours, Albania is integrally part of the Southeast European space. It is then just as much concerned by regional cooperation and it likewise strives for becoming a member of the EU. In June 2014, Albania has been granted the status of EU candidate –an accomplishment after decades of intense efforts and gradual progresses. But the road ahead is fraught with pitfalls. What priorities should Albania set in the future? How does it get engaged in regional cooperation? And how does it conceive of its contribution to regional stability?
It is in order to reflect on these issues that the Austro-French Centre for Rapprochement in Europe, an inter-governmental organization promoting European integration in the Western Balkans, organised an international conference in Tirana on 27th April 2015. Its purpose was to examine the ins and outs of the European dynamic and regional cooperation in difficult times, and to consider the challenges of European integration in Albania. The conference echoed the renewed interest for the region at the European level since Fall 2014. In its conclusions of December, 16th, the Council of the EU underlined the importance of addressing fundamental reforms early in the process, with an emphasis on the rule of law, economic governance and public administration reform.
The conference was organized by the Austro-French Centre for Rapprochement in Europe together with its partner, the French Institute for International Relations (IFRI) in Paris, in collaboration with the French, Austrian and Albanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Tirana. High-ranking political decision-makers, internationally renown experts and representatives of the civil society exchanged their points of view and experience under the gaze of the media and the public.