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Discussion with young people from the Western Balkans on EU approach
On 25 November 2021, former participants of the International Parliamentary Scholarship of the German Bundestag from the Western Balkans will meet for a virtual discussion the German Bundestag’s two MEPs Axel Schäfer (SPD) and Gunther Krichbaum (CDU/CSU) sent by the German Bundestag to the Conference on the Future of Europe. The exchange of views on the enlargement policy of the European Union will focus on issues relating to the European perspective of the Western Balkans and the challenges to be tackled on the road to convergence. The participants are preparing the discussion in a workshop on 23 November 2021. The exchange with the two members of the Bundestag is organised in cooperation with the Institute for European Politics.
Event reportAs part of a two-day virtual event, former participants at the International Parliament Scholarship (IPS) of the German Bundestag from the countries of the Western Balkans developed proposals and recommendations for action to bring the Western Balkan states closer to the EU. Among others, they highlighted the following key questions: 1) How is the EU perceived in the region and in which specific areas it is involved? 2) What is the current approval of the EU in the region?; 3) How should the EU deal with other geopolitical actors, in particular China, Russia and Turkey? On the first day, the former fellows worked out some options for action in a workshop with Dr. Katrin Böttger, Director at the Institute of European Politics. The discussion showed, among other things, that in recent years people’s confidence in the EU has decreased. Despite clear efforts — the participants mentioned the name change of North Macedonia by way of example — there was no prospect of further integration steps. On the second day, the participants discussed their ideas in a virtual conversation with MEPs Axel Schäfer (SPD) and Gunther Kirchbaum (CDU/CSU), who were sent by the German Bundestag to the Conference on the Future of Europe. The former fellows stressed that the Western Balkans is an integral, full-fledged part of Europe. The overall objective must be to increase the EU’s presence in the region. New incentives below EU accession should be created to better and more crediblely link reforms in the countries of the region to further integration steps (e.g. participation in the internal market). However, MEPs also made it clear that economies in the Western Balkans must be prepared for competitive pressure as part of the convergence process. A deeper cultural and scientific exchange was also considered desirable on the part of the fellows. The participants criticised the possibility of individual EU Member States to block progress in the negotiations. They wished for a stronger EU security engagement in the region. They stressed that this was also in the EU’s own interest. Other actors in the region, such as China, Russia and Turkey, did not share EU values. In addition, the fellows called for the region to be actively involved in the Conference on the Future of Europe, as the Western Balkan countries understood themselves as part of the future EU. Requests/recommendations to the conference: 1) A stronger EU presence in the Western Balkans, including as a security actor 2) Implementing reforms with further integration steps or incentives below EU accession to maintain the credibility of the EU 3) Closer involvement of the Western Balkans in the Conference on the Future of Europe
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