Western Balkans: Virtual meeting of the Foreign Ministers participating in the Berlin Process on 8 June
Western Balkans Summit Berlin 2021, © Federal Foreign Office
On Tuesday, 8 June, as part of the Berlin Process, Foreign Minister Maas will host a virtual meeting with his counterparts from the six Western Balkan countries (Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia), the United Kingdom and a number of EU member states.
The EU Commissioner for Enlargement Olivér Várhelyi and the EEAS Secretary General Stefano Sannino will also attend.
The participants in the Berlin Process for the Western Balkans, which the Federal Government launched in 2014, are working together to foster cooperation between the six countries in the region. The aim is to support them in forging closer ties with the European Union.
Seven years after the informal Berlin Process began, Germany is now returning to the role of host. Issues on the agenda for the Foreign Ministers’ meeting on 8 June include concrete approaches to improving connectivity in the region and current negotiations in this regard, reform processes for improving the countries’ EU perspective, unresolved bilateral issues and – inevitably – how health and the economy are faring in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
An initial part of the broad-based civil society forum, another key element of the Berlin Process, was held a few days ago under the motto “Road to Berlin”. Minister of State Michael Roth and State Secretary Miguel Berger took part. This event allowed civil society representatives to develop analyses and concrete proposals which they will now present to the Foreign Ministers. In the coming weeks, further meetings will be held between the Interior Ministers, Health Ministers and Economy Ministers of the participating countries – all in the run-up to the Berlin Process summit on 5 July, which will also take place online. A ministerial meeting dedicated to the situation of the Roma as well as a youth forum will round off the programme of events hosted by Germany.
What has been achieved over the last seven years “from Berlin to Berlin”? Specific points include:
- the founding of the Regional Youth Cooperation Office, which has already brought together thousands of young people;
- the conclusion of the Regional Roaming Agreement, which will bring an end to roaming fees in the Western Balkans as of July; and
- the firm agreement on a Common Regional Market.
At Germany’s initiative, an annual digital summit has also taken place in the region for the last four years (Skopje 2018, Belgrade 2019, Tirana 2020, Podgorica 2021). A Franco-German initiative, meanwhile, has led to a regional roadmap for the systematic monitoring and reduction of illegal small arms, which is now being implemented by the EU.
The Berlin Process has thus helped to improve links not just between the region’s political actors, but also between the participating youth and civil society organisations and between the working levels of the various ministries involved. The aim of the many concrete projects and initiatives is to continue strengthening good neighbourly relations between the countries of the Western Balkans over the long term.
Of course, the COVID-19 pandemic has left its mark on the Berlin Process. But at the same time, the pandemic has thrown the necessity of regional cooperation and European solidarity into sharp relief once again.
- The pragmatic move to establish “Green Lanes” between the six Western Balkan countries made it possible to safeguard the transport of food and medicine over the last year.
- To alleviate the immediate impact of the pandemic, the European Union put together an emergency package worth 3.3 billion euro; it also has firm plans to establish a long-term Economic and Investment Plan for the Western Balkans worth up to 9 billion euro.
- And the global vaccination campaign COVAX – which draws one fifth of its funding from Germany and one third from the EU – had delivered an initial supply of one million vaccine doses to the Western Balkans by the end of May.
Close cooperation between the European Union, its member states and the six Western Balkan countries will remain essential in the coming years in order to tackle challenges both old and new. Foreign Minister Maas commented on this cooperation in October 2020 during his opening speech for the conference Young People, Migration, and the Demographic Challenge in the Western Balkans:
It is in our joint strategic interest that your countries join the European Union. Germany’s pledge remains, namely that the future of the countries of the Western Balkans lies in the European Union. This is where they belong. And this is where most young people see their future. Germany is and will remain a close partner for all countries in the region, especially during its year as host of the Berlin Process.