GEA at the Western Balkans Summit in Vienna

Civil society of the Western Balkan countries argues for a new kind of dialogue with decision makers from the region and EU.

The Civil Society Forum of the Western Balkans was held within the Vienna summit on the future of the Western Balkans, which gathered highest ranking officials from the EU and region. The Forum was a unique opportunity for civil society representatives from Southeastern Europe to express their concerns regarding current social and economic challenges and the situation in the area of civil society, and also to deliver concrete proposals to highest ranking officials of the European Union, member states and governments of the Western Balkan countries. The Forum started with a debate between civil society representatives and highest ranking officials from the Western Balkans and EU on strengthening regional cooperation, freedom of expression and creation of jobs and prosperity. One of the conclusions was that the Western Balkan countries should develop active labor market policy that would include all actors as co-responsible partners. The focus should be on support to production and creation of added value, taking into account the economic structure based on nano, small and medium sized enterprises. Another important message of the Forum was that civil society has to be included in economic planning from the very beginning, for example through national economic councils constituted of politicians, scientists, employers, workers’ unions, civil society and local scientific community.

A topic of high concern addressed by the participants in the debate was the importance of regional cooperation in order to master the enormous challenge of welcoming the high number of refugees from the Middle East. The Forum represents the beginning of a new kind of cooperation of civil society in the Western Balkans and dialogue towards decision makers, both regional and in the EU.

These are the key recommendations delivered to the leaders present at the Forum:

Enable successful creation of new jobs in the whole region – develop prosperity in a common labor market through:

  • more production as a balance to the growing consumption sector. Each country should develop its own economic model based on the local comparative advantage, structures and competences.
  • strong support of SME and developing local production capacities.
  • modernization and support to the agricultural sector through on-the-ground assistance and micro-credits targeting the rural population with training, micro-credits, advices, etc. Rural employment is the key for the prevention of massive migrations into cities.
  • entrepreneurship and innovations as driving factors
  • establishment of regional, national and local economic councils
  • joint regional agreements to support regional exchange
  • raising quality of life and consumers’ protection
  • developing an active labor market policy and fighting the grey economy

Enhance regional cooperation through regional confidence building and dealing with the past, strengthening human capacities and exchange best practices, along with a more active inclusion of the civil society and civil society networks as pillars of cooperation.

Secure the freedom of expression and work of independent media through strengthening legal protection and working conditions for journalists, enabling independent work to public broadcasters, transparent funding of public broadcasters, their transparent structure and preventing monopoly at the media market.

Recommendations also state that all countries of the region should perform reforms of the complete education system, from kindergartens to universities, in order to make it more adapted to labor market needs and demands, to avoid creating a new army of unemployed young people who would lose all hopes in the system and society.

Тhe Forum is a joint initiative of ERSTE Foundation, Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, and Karl Renner Institute, in close cooperation with the Austrian Federal Ministry for Europe, Integration and Foreign Affairs. Besides representatives of civil society from Western Balkan countries, the 2015 Forum was attended by the Prime Minister of Serbia Aleksandar Vucic, the Prime Minister of Albania Edi Rama,  the Commissioner for European Neighborhood Policy & Enlargement Negotiations Johannes Hahn, the Foreign Affairs Minister of B&H Igor Crnadak, the Foreign Affairs and European Integration Minister of Montenegro Igor Luksic and other high officials.

Center for Research and Studies GEA was represented by Ognjen Djukic, program director