On 3 March 2021, BCSDN Executive Director Biljana Spasovska participated in the EESC Section for External Relations meeting “Western Balkans, in the contest of the EU-Western Balkans relations and the Covid-19 pandemic”. The meeting brought prominent speakers from the EU institutions to provide their views and debate on EU’s commitment to enhance the accession process ahead of the preparation of the EESC Opinion REX/533 – “Enhancing the accession process – A credible EU perspective for the Western Balkans” that should be adopted at the EESC plenary on 24-25 March.
The meeting hosted an online discussion in two sessions: The first one was devoted to gathering the views from the EU institutions and the need to promote regional cooperation, while the second session was devoted to the economic and social situation and the role of the CSOs and local and regional authorities in the region. Each of the sessions was followed by a Q&A with and discussion with the members of the members of the EESC External Section.
The first speaker, Ms. Genoveva Ruiz Calavera, Director for Western Balkans at the Directorate-General for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Negotiations (NEAR), opened the discussion reaffirming the EU’s commitment to the EU enlargement process, highlighted the EU support to the Western Balkans in tackling coronavirus crisis and in post-pandemic recovery and emphasized the importance of enhancing the regional cooperation and the establishment of a Common Regional Market as a stepping stone towards EU single market.
Ms. Majlinda Bregu, Secretary General of the Regional Cooperation Council (RCC), also focused on the importance of enhanced economic cooperation and connectivity in the region, while Mr. Tonino Picula, Chairman of the European Parliament’s Working Group for the Western Balkans, emphasized on the need for reinvigorated and more firm commitment on the EU towards the Western Balkans.
The second session was opened by Ms. Milica Uvalić, Professor of Economics at the University of Perugia and member in the Balkans in Europe Policy Advisory Group (BiEPAG), with an overview of the socio-economic situation in the Western Balkans followed by Ms. Biljana Spasovska and Mr. Nikola Dobroslavić, Chair of the Committee of the Region’s Working Group on the Western Balkans and rapporteur for the opinion Enlargement Package.
Biljana presented the state of play with the civil society in the Western Balkans based on the findings from our Monitoring Matrix on enabling environment for civil society development and talked about the particular challenges, effects and the role of CSOs in covid-19 crisis in the region. Pointing out the key part and the contribution of the civil society towards the EU accession process of the Western Balkans region, Biljana pointed 3 key recommendations of BCSDN for the EU to reinforce its support for strong and resilient civil society as a precondition for democratic and sustainable development of the region and its integration into the EU by:
- Systematically supporting environment that is conducive for CSO’s operations and development via the EU accession process;
- Programing the IPA III to support strong and sustainable civil society;
- Demonstrating clear political commitment to effective involvement of the civil society in the EU accession process.
Biljana also expressed our appreciation for the EESC continuous commitment to Western Balkans EU Enlargement process, and complimented the well prepared draft Opinion.