Civil Society Forum of the Western Balkans Summit Series
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Source: European Western Balkans

[EWB Interview] Morvai: Citizens’ participation is crucial for the success of the Berlin Process

19.12.2017

The first cycle of the Berlin Process is coming to an end. What can we expect after the London summit, what are the greatest successes of the Berlin Process, as well as on a launching a hub where one can find news, publications, documents and expert opinions on various topics related to the Berlin Process, European Western Balkans spoke with Hedvig Morvai, director of the European Fund for the Balkans.

European Western Balkans: In your opinion, what are the greatest successes of the Berlin Process?

Hedvig Morvai: The greatest success of the Berlin Process is that it promotes a regional approach to solving some of the biggest problems that the Western Balkans is facing. The large-scale infrastructure projects, the Regional Youth Cooperation Office (RYCO), the Western Balkans Fund (WBF), the Chamber Investment Forum (CIF), the Transport Community, the Western Balkans Research Foundation, the dialogue between Serbia and Albania, alongside many others – are the projects and initiatives of the Berlin Process not only projected at bringing tangible benefits, but also at changing the awareness of people living here, connecting them and encouraging them to economic, cultural, scientific and any other cooperation. This is the capital value of the entire Process, as it creates the preconditions for lasting stability and development of the Western Balkans.

The Berlin Process is a high-level political format through which the European Commission and a number of EU member states are focusing exclusively on the Western Balkans in a way which supports the development of specific projects, and which particularly encourages regional cooperation. The leaders of the involved EU countries thus confirm their commitment to this region and the desire to help its true transformation. In addition, although there are over 70 inter-state and regional initiatives in the Western Balkans, this Process has managed to inspire and encourage regional cooperation in a way which no other initiative managed to.

EWB: To what extent do you believe the Berlin Process had an impact on the officials in the Western Balkans? Do you believe that this initiative has influenced on building better relations between the countries of the region?

HM: The Berlin Process certainly spurred the cooperation of the Western Balkan state officials. On the one hand, this is evidenced by the number of organized and announced regional meetings at the prime ministerial and ministerial level, by the fact that in the last six months, two secretariats (of the CIF and the Transport Community) have been formed and that the RYCO and the WBF have become fully operational. All of these required the political will and high level of cooperation between the state officials.

On the other hand, the fact is that there are still challenges at the bilateral level. Although the leaders of the Western Balkans, on the initiative of the civil society, signed the Declaration on Bilateral Issues at the Vienna Summit 2015, there are difficulties at this level caused by the conflicting interests of the Western Balkan countries on certain issues. As long as these problems are not resolved, harmonious cooperation between the countries of the region will not be possible. It is therefore important that the Civil Society Forum continues to insist that political leaders act in accordance with the spirit of the Declaration they have signed in Vienna and gradually overcome all challenges.

EWB: What do you expect of the upcoming London Summit? Do you believe that this summit will be as successful as the Trieste Summit?

HM: From the Summit in London, I expect, first of all, to be held in an atmosphere that is less uncertain when it comes to the future of the European integration of the Western Balkan countries and when it comes to the future prospects of the European Union. This context will be much more convenient for elaborating key topics of the Summit announced by British officials: interconnectivity, entrepreneurship, youth, digitalization and security. Also, it would be important to further develop the project of the Regional Economic Area, to show the first results of the work of the Transport Community, and hopefully to present the newly built infrastructure stemming from the Connectivity Agenda. I hope that the results of the Trieste Summit will be surpassed.

Photo: CDI/Andis Rado

EWB: Considering the Civil Society Forum to be an integral part of the Berlin Process, does it have an influence on the decision-makers in the Western Balkan countries? If it does, to what extent?

HM: The Trieste Summit has shown that this impact is possible because the recommendations of the Civil Society Forum were taken into account in the Declaration by the Italian Chair, which also reiterated the importance of civil society for the decisions taken within the framework of the Berlin Process. When it comes to the participation of civil society, this result is not perfect, but it is a major step towards its inclusion in the decision-making process at the regional level.

A year and a half ago, during the Paris Summit we were sitting in a building far away from the one in which the Summit was held and nobody knew that we existed, and this year we had a policy event with the Ministers of Foreign Affairs, presenting them the recommendations we prepared, following several months of a consultative process.

Citizens’ participation is crucial for the success of the Berlin Process because the involvement of citizens and their organizations in decision-making and implementation of decisions is a prerequisite for creating a broad social consensus backing the goals of the Process. Through the Civil Society Forum, which represents a platform for influencing regional policy-making, civil society can significantly contribute to the success of the Process by providing its own expertise, and by monitoring and by communication of the Berlin Process and its results.

It is important not only that the stakeholders understand the whole Process, but to also create conditions in which citizens will support the soft measures needed for implementation of the projects stemming from it.

EWB: How do you see the future of the Berlin Process after the London Summit, considering that this Berlin process cycle is coming to an end?

HM: The preparation phase for the London Summit is the right time to engage serious strategic thinking Process. We are witnessing a new momentum for the Western Balkans’ EU perspective. 2018 might offer a window of opportunity for accelerating the region’s EU accession process and the follow up of the Berlin Process must be designed in this context.

Although at the start the Process was limited to four years, the Summit participants in Trieste agreed to continue the process beyond 2018 and expressed great satisfaction with the prospect of further high-level events in the region. Moreover, some countries of central and Eastern Europe are also willing to join the Berlin Process, which could bring new challenges, but also a new impetus to the initiated and the launching of new projects and initiatives.

On the practical level, what is absolutely necessary is to improve the very coordination of the Berlin Process, since it is obvious that, in some of its segments, intentions exceed its current capacities. I am primarily referring to the fact that funding instruments cannot be easily redirected to immediately benefit those most in need, to the absence of a mechanism for monitoring, evaluation and accountability for non-implementation of the projects agreed by the governments, to the arbitrary choice of topics from the summit to the summit without a clear continuity, to the poor communication of the Berlin Process, etc. The expertise within the civil society can contribute to overcoming some of these issues.

EWB: In what ways could the Berlin process be brought closer to the citizens? In other words, how could all the advantages this initiative is carrying be explained because there is an impression that citizens are not aware of its significance?

HM: It is true that the Berlin process should be brought closer to the citizens because they are not sufficiently familiar with this initiative. This is, on the one hand, the result of the fact that the Berlin process is a process, not an institutionalized structure with a secretariat and management bodies that could, among other things, deal with communications. On the other hand, the problem of not informing the citizens of the region about the Berlin Process is a part of the wider context in which the media face numerous challenges.

However, it should be noted that the very visibility of the results of the Berlin Process itself is not an end in itself. The aim is to help to achieve the goals of the Berlin process and creating the change through improvement of communications. That is why we made the first step by launching The Berlin Process Information and Resource Centre, a hub where one can find news, publications, documents and expert opinions on various topics related to the Berlin Process. With this new communications tool, we will bring more clarity about the process not only to citizens but also to an opinion – and decision-makers.