Western Balkan Advocacy Group: To make the region visible

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times December 16, 2016 13:14

Western Balkan Advocacy Group: To make the region visible

Jelica Minic

Jelica Minic

TIRANA, Dec. 15 – One of the biggest problems for the Western Balkan countries in the last years has been the lack of visibility of their work together. This was stressed by Jelica Minic at the presentation of “Advocacy strategy for the EU integration of the Western Balkans – Guidelines”, organized by the Albanian Institute for International Relations at Tirana Times Book House. Minic, President of the Forum for International Relations of the European Movement in Serbia said this lack of visibility was the starting point for the establishment of the Western Balkans 6 Advocacy Group. While they were working in the project they applied to make a portal (http://wb6.info/).

According to Minic the idea behind this Advocacy Group is to develop a level of solidarity that in the future, if one of the Western Balkan countries will be integrated first to EU, to prevent it from blocking the other countries, or the EU could integrate all the countries as a pack. Minic said that the purpose is to improve the image of these countries, which is not good. Media coverage in the region is filled with bad news. ‘No one cared about the good news’, she said. This was the framework in which this project was started. Only by appearing together, as a block, can we make any difference, she said. The Western Balkan region is an important region, according to Minic, and there is no political vacuum in it. ‘If the EU is not present’, she said, ‘others will be. We are the inner yard of the European Union, not its backyard’. She said that the Advocacy Group wants to address issues of regional relevance. ‘We want to appear together as a block, only in this way can we make the difference’. This is the first time in the history of the region where all have the same goal: EU integration.

This point was also stressed by Mimoza Halimi from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. She said that the road towards EU is not easy and short, it has become more demanding, but, according to her this should not frighten the Western Balkan countries, because ‘It is the only choice we have’, she said. The regional cooperation which this advocacy group promotes aims to ease the region’s road towards the EU. Halimi said that it is important to advocate how good we are, what we have done to fulfill the criteria and to show to the EU why this region is important. The road towards the EU has become more difficult because of the internal problems: the effects of the 2008 financial crisis, migrants, Brexit, the rise of euro-skepticism. She emphasized the fact that the enlargement is still there, is still in the agenda. It is important to have the feeling that the process is going forward.

Michal Vit, researcher at Europeum, a think tank in Czech Republic, speaking on behalf of Visegrad group said that it is important to keep the enlargement agenda. The Western Balkan region should focus on regional cooperation, not bilateral relations‘We should not focus on nations’ he said, but it is important to cooperate, to work together. The Visegrad group can assist the Western Balkan region when it comes to the cooperation.

Gjergji Murra, Executive Director of the Western Balkans Fund, said that the fact that 6 think tanks are coming together, this shows maturity and that the civil society in the region is faster in mutual cooperation than the governments. He said that the Western Balkan fund is being created in the model of Visegrad Fund. It is dedicated to the cooperation of the civil society sector in the region. It will support initiatives coming from the civil society. This is the first time, he said, that the governments in the region have decided to support the civil society.

Sara Kelmendi of the Albanian Institute for International Studies, in her presentation of WB6 Advocacy Group said that the need to make an additional effort to support the EU integration of the Western Balkans came because of the circumstances of the European Union in the last years. Eight think tanks (4 from Visegrad group countries, 4 from WB countries) conducted a year-long research to learn about the use of tools of public advocacy in support to EU accession. The research demonstrated that the tools of advocacy (i.e. preparation and dissemination of policy proposals, communication campaigns, lobbying and all other methods used by state and non-state actors in attempts to influence the decision-making process) have been significantly less used for fostering the Western Balkans EU integration, in comparison the level of their use during the accession process of the Visegrad countries, in spite of the less favorable circumstances of enlargement today.

WB 6 Advocacy Group is a regional initiative of the 6 think tanks, which will work to rally WB administrations, civil society, media, educational institutions, business associations and other stakeholders to jointly advocate for EU integration and regional cooperation in the matters of regional scope and of regional relevance. WB6 AG will address those issues where civil society can play an important role in addressing the wider public in the EU, Member States and in the Western Balkans, bringing an added value to the work of public administrations in the area of advocacy. During 2017, the Group will work to simultaneously raise the awareness and capacities of the key advocacy actors in the region (administrations and parliaments), as well as of the other advocacy actors (civil society, business associations, institutions of culture, education and media) and to, in cooperation with these actors, finalize the content and the coordinating mechanisms of the joint advocacy approach – within the final Strategy document – and set off with its implementation. Political support of the governments in the region, necessary for implementation of the Strategy, will be mobilized through their active involvement in development and implementation of the initiative, and through their participation in the Advisory Board of the Group. Support will also be sought from the existing regional initiatives and from donors.

In the big picture, the role of the Group will be to facilitate the finalization and the implementation of the regional Advocacy Strategy for the EU integration of the Western Balkans.

 

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times December 16, 2016 13:14