In the lead up to the London Summit held on 9 and 10 July 2018, the Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) from the Western Balkans (WB) put together and shared with the CSOs and government officials from the WB as well as with organizers and other actors participating at the Summit, a platform for a regional civil society organization (see below) that will assume greater responsibility for monitoring Berlin Process agendas and holding our governments accountable for implementing recommendations from the Berlin Process Summits and meeting EU integration criteria.
The work of CSOs from the region with the Western Balkans 6 (Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia) has provided an important starting point for developing regional relationships, forming networks, and bringing a regional framework to our country-specific work. It is now time to formalize and structure a regional civil society body that is empowered to play a greater role bringing about critical changes that will intervene in authoritarian governments under state capture and build the social, political, and economic foundations of democratic societies based on human rights and rule of law.
Civil society will self-organize meetings to advance our organizational structure and strategically plan for 2019 and beyond. We look forward to working with governments of the region, donors, CSOs, and other actors as we move forward to create an empowered civil society that will be able to contribute significantly to the reform and development of the Western Balkans.
Civil Society Platform for Democracy and Human Rights
As noted in the 2017 – 2019 House of Lords Report on the UK and future of the Western Balkans, “Instability in the region is driven by serious and deep-rooted governance challenges” – challenges which have been compounded by the practice of supporting stability over democracy. This has contributed to a rising “stabilitocracy” through which authoritarian governments have consolidated “their patronage networks, ensuring near invincibility at elections in years to come” (https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld201719/ ldselect/ldintrel/53/53.pdf). On the one hand, many are looking to civil society as the corrective for this, but, on the other, civil society has remained relegated to a consultation paradigm, lacking the teeth necessary to counter state capture, evolve inclusive and sustainable governing structures, and entrench strong democracy institutions. In a situation of escalating tensions, third party destabilization, endemic corruption, and increasing polarizations within and amongst countries, it is time for a coordinated regional civil society – the people of the Western Balkans, who share a common history – to assume a leadership position in which we work together to deal with problems of the past and create a peaceful future.
Our civil society platform assumes this responsibility. At this summit, governments will be making commitments to support the Western Balkan countries on their path to EU integration. But the Berlin Process has no built-in steering and monitoring mechanism and hosting member states, ad hoc, have no authority to act in an oversight capacity. The Civil Society Platform fills this gap – we commit to working, in tandem with governments and international partners, to hold ourselves and our governments accountable for advancing the social, economic, and political agendas for EU integration. To this end, the UKs role hosting and facilitating the London Summit provides an important opportunity to raise the profile of engagement with CSOs, both in setting the agenda for engagement at the Summit and for coordinating, through UK Embassies in the region, with CSOs to ensure accountability of governments, CSOs, and international bodies in monitoring implementation of the Summit’s recommendations.
With almost thirty years of capacity building, we have the expertise – and as importantly, the will – to move our countries forward. For us to take this role, it is imperative that, at this summit, we develop a plan for removing the barriers to a coordinated regional civil society (such as visa restrictions on traveling and telecommunications regulations that prevent communication amongst Balkan countries).
In its new role outside of the European Union but as a partner to the EU and Western Balkans, the UK is at the beginning stages of finding innovative new ways of coordinating and cooperating with the EU and bilateral partners. Working with a coordinated regional civil society is an important component of these new partnerships. Each of us, working on our own mandates, shares common principles for advancing the social, economic, and political dimensions of the Berlin Process connectivity agenda. By maintaining open and regular communication and information sharing, our platform for democracy and human rights allows us to bring our local expertise to a regional network that works collaboratively to solve our joint problems.
To this end, the Civil Society Platform pledges:
• To work across borders and sectors, in support of each other and government, to co-develop the region, not as fragmented actors working on short-term projects, but as visionaries with skills, knowledge, and expertise that is crucial for breaking the hold of state capture and creating a unified Western Balkans that works, collaboratively and with good will, for a prosperous and secure future;
• To lead by example: shunning inflammatory rhetoric, we will create an environment of political cooperation and uphold the core values of democracy, human rights, and integrity. As models of public diplomacy and regional cooperation that can unite a divided and polarized Western Balkans, our constructive work will set the bar to which governments must rise;
• Looking forward to the next summit in Poland, we will be the institutional memory of the Berlin Process. Building on past accomplishments, we pledge to use the London Summit to consolidate gains and clearly strategize commitments to which governments can agree;
• Between now and the 2019 Poland Summit, we will conduct ongoing assessment and evaluation of progress towards implementing these commitments, and bring lessons learned to co-organizing for next year’s summit.
MANIFESTO FOR THE POZNAN SUMMIT
Ahead of the Poznan Summit scheduled to take place 3 - 5 July 2019, the Western Balkans Civil Society Platform for Democracy and Human Rights, shared with the organizers of the Summit, and key actors in our region, the following Manifesto. The organisation and functioning of the CSP, and the common position built on important issues since the London Summit, including on the Berlin Process and Annual Summits, serve as a model - and a clear demonstration of our commitment - to advancing dialogue, reconciliation and accountability in our region.
Poznan Summit is the sixth since the yearly Summits held in Berlin (2014), Vienna (2015), Paris (2016), Trieste (2017), and London (2018).
Manifesto for Poznan and Beyond: Dialogue, Reconciliation, and Accountability
The Berlin Process, created to support Western Balkan countries on their path to EU integration, includes the provision to empower civil society to hold our governments accountable for agreements they make at the yearly summits.
Despite these good intentions, our governments have shown little progress towards implementing their Berlin Process commitments. Each year, our governments’ pledge to end corruption and establish the rule of law. But, according to the Chairs’ Conclusions of the Heads Meeting at the London Summit, serious and organized crime, corruption, money laundering, and financial crime remain among our most significant security threats. Clearly, then, all stakeholders involved in the Berlin Process need to develop new strategies to make our governments responsible for actually doing what, at each summit, they promise to do. Civil society must play a primary role as the citizens of the Western Balkans are the ones that most benefit from becoming part of the European Union family and the ones that directly suffer from our governments’ failures.
The Western Balkans Civil Society Platform for Democracy and Human Rights is an independently organized regional consortium that is working across borders to tackle the serious problems we are facing. Our network is united, not by projects or funding, but by the shared desire for peace and stability in our region and a common interest in taking our place in the EU family. As a citizens’ movement, we have already extended our networks beyond simply NGOs to include individuals with important skills, expertise, and knowledge necessary to our mission. With members from every country in the Western Balkans, we are proof that the citizens of the Western Balkans have already reconciled from past conflicts. Unfortunately, this is not reflected in the increasingly nationalistic rhetoric of our governments.
When our governments have failed to realize the dream of democracy, it falls to us, the people of the Western Balkans, to lead the way helping our governments develop functional, stable states where accountability and rule of law prevail. Despite our many differences and past conflicts, we all share a common history that has as much potential to unite us as it does to divide us.
To realize our dream of democracy, we request that the 2019 Poznan Summit Agenda include:
- A Presentation on Dialogue and Reconciliation as a starting point for defining our common interests and developing regional relationships that allow us to coordinate our joint initiatives;
- The commitment to define new and creative structures and mechanisms that can more effectively support cross-sector collaborations that promote democracy, rule of law, transparent and accountable governments, and human rights;
- The commitment to support a civil society progress report on governments’ compliance with Berlin Process Summit Recommendations.
The European Union Project needs the Western Balkans, and we want to enter the EU family. At a critical geopolitical moment, thinking beyond the Berlin Process, we need to collaboratively evolve our concrete actions and joint commitment that can unite Europe into an extended family that brings stability and security for all of us. We are here to take up this work: to turn words into action and to help our governments fulfill their commitments, not just to the Berlin Process Pledges, but to evolving a shared world of peace and prosperity for all.
Recommendations for the Sofia Summit
Western Balkans Civil Society Platform for Democracy and Human Rights
3 November 2020
As we approach the Sofia Summit scheduled to take place in November 2020, the Civil Society Platform for Democracy and Human Rights (CSP) shares the key findings and recommendations from its research undertaken in 2020, focusing on the progress made by the WB6 governments towards fulfilling their pledges since London and Poznań Summits. The research is one of the actions taken within the CSP’s pledge to assuming greater responsibility for monitoring the Berlin Process agendas, holding the WB Six (WB6) governments accountable for implementing recommendations from the Berlin Process Summits and meeting EU integration criteria.
Findings point to the direction that despite existing challenges and gaps, the Berlin Process as a whole has had a considerable positive impact on the Region. It has managed to redirect the focus of the EU back on the WB6 countries and start a high-level dialogue on equal terms between EU-WB6 leaders, reviving the region’s declining interest in EU integration. It has placed the Region on a stable position on the EU infrastructure map, united the regional civil society under joint causes, and highlighted the role of citizens and youth in promoting dialogue and social change. It has also brought the issue of reconciliation and transitional justice back on the table, raising it as a matter not only of regional but also international importance, as emphasized within the proceedings of the 2020 Zagreb Summit.
Evidence shows, however, that specific factors are slowing down or discouraging progress:
- In many cases, there is political ambition, but no genuine will;
- Specific pledges made in the field of security and the fight against organised crime have been unrealistic in the way they were initially planned, in terms of both time and capacity;
- Entrenched habits, stereotypes and obsolete mentalities of ‘doing things’ get in the way of achieving progress and interregional cooperation;
- The Berlin Process has no built-in steering and monitoring mechanism and hosting member states, ad hoc, have no authority to act in an oversight capacity. While it is possible to a certain extent to assess the technical and economic progress made within the Berlin Process, it is extremely difficult to evaluate social change;
- There is a lack of clarity on how the ‘stocktaking’ of each Summit takes place and how previous Summits inform the agendas of the forthcoming Summits;
- The outbreak of the pandemic exposed a Region which was completely vulnerable and unable to support its citizens.
As the Sofia Summit is the 7th annual gathering, what is expected from the WB countries is to take the necessary steps to move the Berlin Process forward by translating pledges into concrete action. In order to step up the reputation and importance of these summits, the focus must shift to issues regarding, monitoring and visibility, commitment and responsibility, and consistency. Therefore, we request the 2020 Sofia Summit Agenda include:
• The implementation of a Monitoring and Visibility Framework to compare and classify whether WB6 governments are holding up to their pledges;
• A shift to legally binding pledges to bolster the Commitment as well as taking Responsibility for the promises being made. Even if this results in a slower pace of progress as WB6 countries scale down their more ambitious commitments. The results may be more concrete than previously seen;
• Consistency is a key factor in the success and viability of the Berlin Process. WB6 governments should refrain from engaging in contradicting actions of sabotaging each other’s progress which do not serve the spirit of good neighbourly relations, cooperation, and peace. The recent flares of nationalist rhetoric across the region only serve to divide the societies and stifle progress being made towards EU integration;
• At a time when the COVID-19 is continuing to have massive impact in the most vulnerable sections of the societies in the Region, the WB6 governments should step up joint efforts to alleviate the negative socioeconomic impact of the crisis, and to build more just, sustainable and democratic societies.
Downloadable/printable pdf below:
Youth Policy Recommendations for the Sofia Summit
Western Balkans Six Youth Policy Recommendations
Date: Wednesday, November 4, 2020
Ahead of the upcoming Western Balkans (WB) Summit in Sofia, we the civil society actors from the WB region would like to commend the progress made so far by the WB6 governments’ within the Berlin Process toward empowering the youth and for pledging to undertake complementary measures to address youth unemployment, migration, and ‘brain drain’ in the Region. However, the absence of legally binding provisions within the Berlin Process, make it challenging to ensure follow-up action and hold governments accountable for not fulfilling their pledges. In addition, the WB6 governments’ efforts fall short in developing informed policies which would address inequality and benefit young people of all backgrounds in the Region. Such a goal could be achieved through giving youth a top priority in the Summit’s agenda, and through the development of Youth Policies to both alleviate the socio-economic impact of the pandemic and advance the progress in empowering youth in the Region.
1. Increasing WB6 governments’ investment in youth as a way of mitigating the impact of the pandemic in the most vulnerable sections of the societies in the Region. Research by the Civil Society Platform for Democracy and Human Rights (CSP) highlights that the outbreak of the pandemic exposed a Region which was completely vulnerable and unable to support its citizens. It also revealed the WB6 governments’ failure to invest in their biggest asset, human capital and particular youth. The World Bank Group fall report emphasizes that the Western Balkans are enduring severe recessions in 2020. This will continue to have massive impact in the most vulnerable sections of the societies in the Region. However, the CSP report also reveals that the role of youth and the civil society in the WB6 has been essential in the management of the crisis. There have been many stories of individual or collective initiatives, often self-organised, which have covered institutional and technical gaps through self-invented, yet effective, solutions. Such examples include the use of social media in creative ways to spread information, dissolve scaremongering and fake news, provide help to vulnerable groups, and facilitate cooperation among the business sector and local authorities.
2. Addressing the needs of Bi-ethnic and Diaspora Youth. In the 21st century, many high-potential young people that have roots in the WB6 live in other countries, or have multiple citizenships. Working on programs designed to make the WB6 attractive as a place to study, live, or work (e.g., work subsidy programs, diaspora-hiring campaigns, etc.) is beneficial to the economic integration of the Region. Furthermore, such policies ensure that youth with ties to the Region feel that they are connected economically, culturally, and career-wise, not just through their ethnicity.
3. Addressing the needs of disabled and non-traditional youth. More policy work ought to be done to allow disabled youth to be integrated, and to ensure that youth focusing on non-traditional career pathways are supported in their endeavours. The cultural sector (e.g., Arts, philosophy, etc.) must be supported. This could include connecting young people with fewer opportunities in the Region with for example local Interreg IPA programmes and also harnessing the potential of the Interreg Volunteer Youth framework (IVY).
4. Having a unified effort on the linguistic education of WB6 youth. There needs to be a harmonized language policy that establishes a vision to ensure that WB6 youth are properly educated in international and local languages. This is likely to open up more opportunities for the young people, and encourage them to seek for education and employment opportunities within the Region.
5. Ensure that an intersectional lens is considered in all future policy work. Ensuring that policy gets created and reviewed from an intersectional lens allows for specified fixes to problems. Youth are not a monolith: Everyone is an individual and everyone is affected by policy differently due to their unique characteristics (e.g., personality, race, ethnicity, language, gender, sex, sexuality, et cetera). A youth policy should be divided into many sub-policies for different groups.
6. Support the creation of programmes which aim to unite universities across borders - such examples include Euroculture consortium, the Epicur alliance, or the Eucor campus. This would enhance cross-border contacts among youth, and such alliances may become attractive internationally.
Finally, of a paramount importance is for the governments’ to improve their public consultation with young people and to strengthen youth participation in local and national policy and decision-making processes.
Downloadable/printable pdf below: