The Forum of Civil Society and Think Tanks (CSF), within the framework of the Berlin Process, is planned October 14 and 15 in Tirana. The forum is structured around seven thematic working groups, each led by civil society organizations from the region. These working groups actively engaged in a comprehensive consultation process, involving civil society and regional experts, to collaboratively formulate policy recommendations.
According to the Civil Society Forum announcement, the Thematic Working Group on Access to the European single market will explore possibilities for economic integration of the Western Balkans into the EU. The underlying assumption is that the region needs a substantial increase in financial support and investment to close the divergence gap with the EU.
“The discussion will therefore focus on three key issues: participation in the European Semester, access to European funds and access to the European single market,” the press release said.
According to the current recommendations of the working group, the EU should present a plan with a workable timetable to allow the markets of the six Western Balkan countries to immediately access the EU single market in all areas that are not yet covered. would not impose high adjustment costs.
Another recommendation is that, by the end of the year, the EU should present a formal plan to strengthen pre-accession assistance in this multiannual financial framework (MFF) with strict conditionality on the state of right.
Regarding the recommendations addressed to governments in the region, the working group concludes that they should demonstrate their unequivocal commitment to implement and monitor the implementation of reforms related to the single market. acquired.
According to the working group, the EU and the Western Balkans should significantly increase transparency in the planning, management, implementation, monitoring, reporting and evaluation of pre-accession funds.
The European Policy Institute in Skopje, North Macedonia, the organization responsible for this working group, emphasizes that none of the Western Balkan countries are prepared and meet the economic criteria for EU membership.
“Thus, the scope of the thematic working group went beyond the discussion on how and why Western Balkan countries should benefit from “early” access to the EU. The agenda of the thematic working group was set so that participants could discuss how to stimulate the reforms needed to meet the requirements of the single market acquis, as well as structural reforms that would make the Balkan economies Western countries more competitive,” explains Stefan Ristovski, researcher at the Institute of European Policy for the European Western Balkans.
In addition, he adds, the consultations focused on how to support better financing of these reforms, through better public finance management and medium-term budgetary planning as well as targeted use of available funds. as well as the need to increase EU funding.
“The thematic working group started work shortly after European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announcement the growth plan for the Western Balkans at GLOBSEC. We are happy that our working group, among others, can feed into the ongoing political discussions on how to bring the Western Balkans closer to the EU, with membership being the final goal of this process,” Ristovski said.
However, no plan presented by European institutions can alone bring prosperity to the region. The feasibility of such plans will depend to a large extent on the political commitment and capacity of national institutions in the Western Balkans to act.
“Countries in the region need to pick up the pace in terms of alignment and implementation of the EU acquis. This is relevant for the four freedoms, as well as related areas in negotiating groups and the primary internal market,” Ristovski said.
Above all, he adds, Western Balkan countries must establish and maintain strong and impartial regulatory bodies and ensure the independence of judicial systems.
“EU member states would only grant benefits to countries in the region if they were certain that EU rules are applied fairly and equitably,” concludes Ristovki.