If the change initiated by the Berlin Process grows and transforms the EU’s enlargement policy, its contribution will be historical and actually lead to real progress, it is stated in the latest reflection paper “The EU and the Western Balkans after the Berlin Process” by Florent Marciacq, Deputy Secretary General of the Austro-French Centre for Rapprochement in Europe and Research Associate at the Research Group on European Governance at the University of Luxembourg.
In this paper, which has been supported by the Friedrich-Ebert Stiftung, Dialogue Southeast Europe, Marciacq points out that the Berlin Process “is anything but insignificant, as the “business-as-usual” modus through which the EU previously pursued its enlargement policy had led it to turn a blind eye on issues looming over the region.”
However, he explains that one of the weaknesses of the process is that it does not have a built-in steering and monitoring mechanism.
“The Member States organizing the yearly Berlin Process Summits are responsible for following up on the initiatives launched by their predecessors. No specific institution is tasked with having oversight over the strategic development of the overall process or monitoring its achievements.”
When it comes to the London Summit, the focus of this summit which will be held in July this year, will be on interconnectivity, advancing the digital agenda and tackling shared challenges, such as cybercrime and trafficking. The question of what will happen after this cycle ends, remains.
Marciacq believes that this process will definitely continue, although the format is yet unknown.
“Whether new participating states will be invited to join the initiative and how the process will unfold, however, is not settled yet, for lack of steering mechanism.”
When it comes to the overall accomplishment of the process, the one part has been perceived by the Western Balkans’ leaders as effective – the boosted interest of WB6 and EU stakeholders for regional cooperation. It is stated that it has led to “the multiplication of regional meetings at all levels, which in turn constitute an effective way of building trust and interpersonal relations.”
The establishment of the Regional Youth Cooperation Office (RYCO), Connectivity Agenda and launch of the Western Balkan Chambers Investment Forum have also been noted as successful areas of this initiative. However, those too face some challenges – Western Balkan countries have promised more than they can or intend to deliver.
“Since the beginning of the Berlin Process, very few projects have therefore been able to spring up concretely, and it is noteworthy that this will probably remain the case for several years. That means that the connectivity agenda, to date, has fallen short of both producing highly visible outputs and achieving major progress in broader,” Marciacq explains.
RYCO has been marked as an example of success within the Berlin Process, but it is stated that its success will ultimately depend on its capacity to foster intra-regional mobility across ethnic lines and on the number of youth ready to participate in its programs.
On the question what comes next after the Berlin Process, Marciacq points out there might be several options to consider.
“At best, the Berlin Process would operate in parallel to the EU’s ‘business as usual’ approach; at worst, in joining the plethora of regional initiatives already in place in the region, the Berlin Process would lose its specificity and be diluted in the EU’s ‘business as usual’ mainstream,” he clarifies, adding that there is a certain temptation in proceeding that way.
Reflecting on the previously mentioned London Summit, he explains that it rather sends a confusing message to the Western Balkans.
“It seems that in entrusting the UK to host the Summit in 2018, the Berlin Process responds to outdated commitments, rather than adapting to new realities in a reflected, consistent, and forward-looking manner.”
However, Marciacq states that the Berlin Process may not end up as an initiative that proved disappointing in relation to the expectations it aroused.
“If the change it initiated grows and transforms the EU’s enlargement policy, its contribution will be historical and actually lead to “additional real progress” in advancing the EU’s policy towards WB6 candidate countries,” he concludes.