The historic summit in Albania, hosted for the first time in a non-EU member country, symbolizes the EU’s resolute commitment to fostering prosperity and stability in the Western Balkans. In a world grappling with complex challenges, the region’s unity and strong partnerships are vital. As the Western Balkans embark on their journey toward deeper integration with the EU, they have the opportunity to shape a more prosperous and stable future for their people.
Moreover, the EU’s approach through the Berlin Process has been instrumental in facilitating the Western Balkans‘ progress. This platform, established in 2014, serves as a mechanism for high-level cooperation between the Western Balkan Six (WB6) and Berlin Process host countries. The initiative also involves the EU institutions, international financial institutions, the region’s civil society, youth, and businesses.
The Berlin Process was launched with the aim of harnessing the potential of enhanced regional cooperation in the Western Balkans. It sought to promote specific projects that would increase connectivity in the region, foster good neighbourly relations, and support EU integration. The process of annual summits and related meetings brought high-level politicians from the EU and the Western Balkans into close interaction, effectively placing the region’s challenges on the EU’s agenda.
A key feature of the Berlin Process has been the conditioning of infrastructure investments by implementing „soft measures.“ This approach encouraged the WB6 to enact legal and regulatory reforms in alignment with EU standards. This strategy facilitated their convergence with the EU and maintained the transformative influence of the Union in the region.
The Berlin Process also played a vital role in promoting regional cooperation to address common challenges. These challenges encompassed areas such as closing infrastructure gaps, combating youth unemployment, enhancing economic competitiveness, addressing reconciliation issues, resolving bilateral disputes, advancing education and research, lifting up disadvantaged groups, and addressing environmental concerns.
Furthermore, the Berlin Process galvanized regional cooperation and initiated new forms of collaboration, providing a consistent framework for all six Western Balkan countries. Initiatives like the Common Regional Market and the Regional Youth Cooperation Office (RYCO) are notable examples of the progress made. This approach has empowered the WB6 governments to take on greater responsibility for the Process in the region.
Originally intended to last four years, the Berlin Process has extended beyond the initial timeframe and continues to evolve. The number of EU member states participating in the Process has grown each year, demonstrating its ongoing significance. At the moment, there are 9 EU member states involved, with six WB6 and the United Kingdom. Poland hosted the 2019 Summit, and Bulgaria co-hosted the 2020 Summit alongside North Macedonia. These developments underscore the sustained commitment to fostering cooperation and integration in the Western Balkans.