The German Government established the Berlin Process back in 2014 as an informal format for regional cooperation in the Western Balkans and to support the countries in the region on their path to the EU. Alongside the Western Balkan countries Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia, the participants in the Berlin Process are Germany, Austria, Bulgaria, France, Greece, the UK, Croatia, Italy, Slovenia, Poland and the EU.
This year, for the first time, the Summit and ministerial meetings are being held in the Western Balkan region – in Tirana, Albania. It will be Foreign Minister Baerbock’s first trip to the country. So she will also be taking the opportunity to meet her Albanian counterpart and the Albanian Prime Minister for talks.
The six participating countries of the Western Balkans are united in their intention to accede to the EU. They have all either applied for membership or have already been candidate states for some time (North Macedonia, for example, has had candidate status since 2005). Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said:
The countries of the Western Balkans have already been waiting too long for their place at the European Union table. The young people in the region in particular are entirely clear that their future lies in the EU. And if Europe doesn’t come to them, they will find a way to Europe – with fatal demographic consequences for their countries. Everyone now needs to roll up their sleeves to make sure that EU accession becomes a reality. The EU must keep its word on the promises it has made, and the countries of the Western Balkans must set in motion the necessary reforms.
Tensions rather than closer ties?
However, even if the Berlin Process is clearly focused on reconciliation among the countries of the Western Balkans and their movement towards the EU, this year’s meeting is taking place against a backdrop of new rifts and tensions. In the multilateral talks, therefore, the foreign ministers will also be discussing a diplomatic resolution for the tensions between Kosovo and Serbia. Against this background, Foreign Minister Baerbock will be taking the opportunity presented by the meeting for bilateral talks with her Kosovar and Serbian counterparts. Prior to her departure for Albania, she addressed the new rifts and tensions in the Western Balkans:
Many countries have already made significant progress. Again and again, though, we also see setbacks, and new rifts open up that need to be overcome on the road to the EU: an unscrupulous attack on the Kosovar police, sporadic deployments of Serbian troops on the border with Kosovo, and Mr Dodik’s secessionist policy, which is paralysing the whole of Bosnia and Herzegovina. These tensions are holding the entire region hostage. They are hindering important steps towards reconciliation. They are toxic for investment. And they impede the region’s advance towards EU accession. Against this complex background, the Berlin Process plays an important part in bringing about tangible improvements for the people of the region.
Enhanced regional cooperation and closer ties with the EU
Launched in 2014, the Berlin Process aims to strengthen and deepen regional integration in and with the Western Balkans. Enhanced regional cooperation remains key to economic growth and peace in the region. The Berlin Process is also intended to help accelerate the entire region’s closer alignment with the EU. In this context, it focuses on areas such as infrastructure development, business, regional youth exchanges, reconciliation and science. Successes of the Berlin Process to date include the creation of the Regional Youth Cooperation Office (RYCO), the Regional Roaming Agreement and the establishment of what are known as green lanes, which facilitated the expedited clearance of important goods at borders during the COVID-19 pandemic.