The Berlin Process Accomplishments – Reflections after the London Summit 2018
After four consecutive years of cooperation between the Western Balkans countries and European Union Member States under the Berlin Process, the next summit, initially planned as the concluding one, occurred this July in London. More importantly, the summit was a reason for the leaders of the participating countries to gather and declare once more their mutual willingness for cooperation. The practical accomplishments of the summit comprised of two signed Joint Declarations between the countries of the Western Balkans and their EU partners. However, apart from the declarations, there were hardly any other concrete measures taken towards the resolutions of crucial problems for the region.
The summit in London followed a similar framework as the previous summits and its aim was to discuss vital problems in the region, and in addition, to suggest solutions and ideas. The British hosts encouraged further cooperation with the Balkan states and were calling in favour of stronger multilateral ties, in spite of the fact that the UK is in the middle of negotiations for leaving the EU. By hosting the summit, Theresa May outlined the UK’s vision to continue being a part of the European network and their willingness for stronger bilateral relations and partnership with the countries from the Western Balkans (WB6). Member States of the EU as Germany, Italy and Austria, are also participating in the process, as they would also benefit from a more stable Balkan region and more secure integration of the WB6 into the Euro-Atlantic framework. The discussions between the parties were conducted along the lines of three main pillars that needed further development and a closer focus from all parties in the Berlin Process - increasing economic stability, strengthening regional security, and facilitating political cooperation. Similarly, to the previous summits, the main problems that were approached were youth unemployment, lack of foreign investment, threat of terrorism and radicalisation, low democratic performance and lack of rule of law.
These issues are undoubtedly of great significance for better common future not only of the Western Balkans, but also of the European Union. Despite the long negotiations and arrangements between Brussels and the WB6, who all are aiming towards EU membership, the participants still recognise many remaining problems and agree on the need for mutual cooperation towards their resolution. The interconnectedness and complexity of these problems is what makes achieving major accomplishments rather difficult. EU member states with significant experience in democratic governance and stable socioeconomic conditions joined the discussions as a result of the Process, and also emphasised on the significance of cooperation and stable multilateral relations between the countries in the Balkans. Taking into account the common historical, cultural and social condition of these nations, unity towards reforms and progress may prove greatly successful.
The London Summit this year resulted into signed Joint declarations on Regional Cooperation and Good Neighbourly Relations; on Missing Persons; and on War Crimes in the Framework of the Berlin Process. The other declaration signed is the one on the Principles of Cooperation in the Field of Information - Exchange for Law Enforcement. The declarations intend to put behind historical differences and conflicts between the countries of the Western Balkans and to strengthen the mutual collaboration between the states in the completion of their common goals. Moreover, with the summit in London, the Civil Society Forum praised the leaders of the Berlin Process for making a significant progress towards including the civil society into the discussions of issues such as rule of law, Euro-Atlantic integration, socio-economic reforms and others. The High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini, expressed her gratitude towards the participating countries and recognised the fact that because of the activities of the Berlin Process, the Western Balkan states are now politically, economically, and security-wise closer to the EU. Moreover, the Commissioner for the Security Union, Julian King, and the Ministers of Interior of the WB6 committed to working together in areas of common interest such as counter-terrorism, cyber security, and radicalisation. In the area of security, the participating countries recognised the link between corruption and organised crime and commitments were made regarding corruption issues.
Despite the positive accomplishments of the London summit, the London summit would have been even more successful if the leaders of the EU Member States and the EU representatives pushed for more agreements to be signed between the countries. As the Berlin process is a project for regional cooperation, it is vital to ensure that countries participating are ready to make commitments and meet their promises so that progress could be achieved. Despite the two declarations signed, there was no other agreement reached on any other problematic area. The countries in the Balkans have had history of conflict and many clashes on social, historical, cultural, and ethnic grounds. Moreover, the summit noted problematic topics such as the name dispute between Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, or the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue, there were almost no direct initiatives agreed between the parties. The discussions covered both national politics and regional bilateral and multilateral relations, but the participants did not work towards the implementation of measures that would guarantee an irreversible reform process in the region.
The Berlin Process covered issues and problems that have been approached during various summits, forums, negotiations, etc. in the past. The dialogue from London revolved primarily around plans and agendas already discussed previously, i.e. the implementation of a Regional Economic Area has been agreed on during the last Western Balkans summit in Trieste. Nevertheless, this plan has not come fully into action. The Process also reflected on the Digital Agenda for the Western Balkans that was adopted in Sofia a month earlier in June. It is vital that these commitments undertaken by the countries from the Western Balkans are discussed at various occasions, as that would guarantee faster and higher-quality implementation, and thus more satisfactory progress. Nevertheless, in addition to ensuring that WB6 meet their commitments, which were guaranteed during previous summits, the London Summit could have initiated actions in problematic spheres such as internal political instability, youth unemployment, and regional interconnectedness.
The Berlin Process was established as an initiative in 2014 and presents cooperation between EU member states and the six countries of the Western Balkans (Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, FYROM, Kosovo, Montenegro, and Serbia). The project is not a part of the official integration process of the EU, but rather an initiative undertaken by some member states with the hopes of deepening the ties between WB6 and the EU, thus ensuring strong bilateral and multilateral cooperation in the region, strengthening security, and guaranteeing socioeconomic stability for the whole of Europe. The main idea behind the Process was to gather leaders, foreign ministers, and experts from the Western Balkans and EU member states, as well as representatives of institutions of the European Union in order to not only discuss opportunities for faster and more efficient integration, but also to encourage support and cooperation between the countries of the region.
After the summits in Berlin (2014), Vienna (2015), Paris (2016), and Trieste (2017), the London summit was supposed to be the concluding part of the Berlin Process. However, the initiative was extended for another round of summits, the next one being held in Poland, and the one after possibly in Greece. Critics argue that the Berlin Process did not achieve its aims as quickly as they were hoping to and this leads to the continuation of the summits. On the other side, many have expressed the opposing views and have defended the Berlin Process and its contributions towards stability and Euro-Atlantic integration of the Western Balkans countries (WB6). The extension, on one hand may indicate slow progress, but on the other, it is a proof for the willingness for cooperation between the participating countries. Moreover, leaders of these states recognise the needs to continue with the Process and problems are not avoided, but on the contrary – assistance and unity are encouraged.
In conclusion, the Berlin Process and in particular this year’s summit, have achieved success in being motivation for the leaders and ministers from the WB6 to sit together at the round table and strive for cooperation and mutual assistance. The declarations signed during the London summit have been a step towards to the goal of close collaboration with the aim of development and progress. The framework of the Berlin Process, however, would have been even more efficient if the EU participating countries advocated for the implementation of more direct measures. The Balkans are a region that has faced difficulties and hardship throughout history and it is important to not only encourage cooperation, but also ensure that the countries, especially WB6, are implementing policies, and are actively participating and getting mutually involved in projects that are benefiting not only the Balkan region, but also the future of these countries and their European partners.
About the Author:
Mario Bikarski, a University of Glasgow graduate with a degree expertise in the field of Central and East European politics and international affairs. Bikarski’s main work interests include political life in former communist countries, Western Balkans integration, and European security.