By XHABIR DERALLA
Fasten your seat belts, the Berlin Process is back! The story, which began in 2014 under the ‘conducting baton’ of German ex-chancellor Angela Merkel, after several years of lull, is gaining new energy and new perspectives. At least that’s how it’s announced. Renewed with new ideas, and with a public call to young people to create a new logo; there is a renewed optimism and assurances that the Western Balkans is not forgotten, and that the Berlin process is the only long-term, reliable and comprehensive project that ensures regional cooperation and systemic accession to the EU.
The Berlin Process started ambitiously in 2014, but over time, it lost focus and then completely died down. Some justify it with the dynamic and complex processes in Europe and in the world and with the processes of regrouping of power centers in the modern multipolar world. Whatever the excuses, the fact is that the Berlin Process, for the past three years, has been ‘active’ only for a limited and narrowly specialized circle of people and institutions.
Meanwhile, the Open Balkans initiative appeared, led by the Macedonian and Albanian Prime Ministers, Zoran Zaev and Edi Rama, and the Serbian President, Aleksandar Vucic. The initiative gathered a large number of compliments and expressions of support, especially from across the Atlantic, and the protagonists themselves assure EU leaders and bureaucrats that the initiative is compatible with the Berlin process, and especially that it was not started as a substitute for EU membership. No way.
However, some experts and public opinion makers consider the Open Balkans a parallel process, which does not help the process of regional cooperation and integration. This especially comes in mind given that the goals are identical in both processes – common regional market and freedom of movement.
It is easy to say that the Open Balkans can threaten the Berlin process, because it does not include all the countries of the region, and that it dangerously threatens the European integration process of all the countries of the Western Balkans. However, even the partial opening of the borders between half of the countries in the region means a huge progress for the region, which was drowning in wars and bloodshed only two decades ago.
The Kosovo organization Balkan Forum, which is part of the Platform for Civil Society, a large network of civil society organizations from the entire region of the Western Balkans, issued an analysis in May entitled ‘European engagement with the Western Balkans under the Berlin Process’. The analysis coincided with a statement by German Chancellor Scholz on May 4 when he announced that the process would be resumed in the second half of 2022.
At the end of the Analysis, six sets of recommendations were published; they were prepared with the participation of several organizations, including the Macedonian human rights organization, Civil. The analysis of the Balkan Forum and the recommendations from civil society realistically, directly and concretely cover the most important aspects of the (non)functioning of the Berlin process and can serve as a good guide for all involved politicians, bureaucrats and other actors from the EU and the region.
It’s easy to start something, but it’s hard to start the same thing – a second time around.
The Berlin process, on the threshold of its restart, despite the optimism and the broad smile with which it returns to the always stormy (Western) Balkans, should answer (honestly) several questions. For example: Why did it disappear, so that it has to come back? Will the Western Balkans receive the necessary priority status, especially in the context of the hybrid and armed military threat coming from Moscow and other potential threats to the region? Does the Berlin Process have the capacity, commitment and resources to help the Balkans start substantive transformative processes, including the process of reconciliation, against the tendencies that can be called, in one word, stabilitocracy?
This is important, given that we are talking about the Balkans, and the Western ones at that.