The Western Balkans' Berlin process: A new impulse for regional cooperation

04-07-2016

The six Western Balkan countries – Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Kosovo, Montenegro and Serbia – are united by the common goal of joining the EU. However, they still face divisions, both infrastructural and political, and are confronted, among other things, by a dire economic situation and bilateral disputes and instability. In 2014, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker announced a five-year halt on enlargement. This distancing of the membership prospects, coupled with the realisation that achieving long-term stability and transforming the region could best be secured through economic growth and increased regional cooperation, led to the so-called 'Berlin process'. Consisting of yearly high-level meetings between the six Western Balkan governments and several EU Member States between 2014 and 2018, this process aims to reaffirm the region's EU perspective by improving cooperation and economic stability within it. Connectivity is an important aspect of this process, with investment in infrastructure being seen as a means for creating jobs, business opportunities and other benefits. Creating high-level political connections, reconciling societies by stimulating youth exchange and education projects, and resolving outstanding bilateral disputes, while ensuring civil society participation in the whole process, are other significant aspects of this initiative. The Berlin process enjoys the support of the region and the EU alike, as an initiative bringing a new perspective and impetus to the enlargement process. It has brought a positive momentum for regional cooperation, notably through its projects which are expected to have an economic and social impact that will complement the EU membership ambitions of the individual countries.

The six Western Balkan countries – Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Kosovo, Montenegro and Serbia – are united by the common goal of joining the EU. However, they still face divisions, both infrastructural and political, and are confronted, among other things, by a dire economic situation and bilateral disputes and instability. In 2014, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker announced a five-year halt on enlargement. This distancing of the membership prospects, coupled with the realisation that achieving long-term stability and transforming the region could best be secured through economic growth and increased regional cooperation, led to the so-called 'Berlin process'. Consisting of yearly high-level meetings between the six Western Balkan governments and several EU Member States between 2014 and 2018, this process aims to reaffirm the region's EU perspective by improving cooperation and economic stability within it. Connectivity is an important aspect of this process, with investment in infrastructure being seen as a means for creating jobs, business opportunities and other benefits. Creating high-level political connections, reconciling societies by stimulating youth exchange and education projects, and resolving outstanding bilateral disputes, while ensuring civil society participation in the whole process, are other significant aspects of this initiative. The Berlin process enjoys the support of the region and the EU alike, as an initiative bringing a new perspective and impetus to the enlargement process. It has brought a positive momentum for regional cooperation, notably through its projects which are expected to have an economic and social impact that will complement the EU membership ambitions of the individual countries.