13 May 2013
Bratislava – ESI discussing EU enlargement in SEE with EPP group
Guillermo Martinez Casan (director European Ideas Network), Kristof Bender, Milan Nic (CEPI), György Schöpflin (MEP). Photo: European Ideas Network
Guillermo Martinez Casan (director European Ideas Network), Kristof Bender, Milan Nic (CEPI), György Schöpflin (MEP). Photo: European Ideas Network

ESI's Kristof Bender was invited to talk about "EU aspirations in the Western Balkans in the Midst of Economic Crisis" at a seminar on "Western Balkans 2020+" organised by the European Ideas Network and the International Republican Institute. The event, bringing together members of the European Parliament, diplomats and think tankers, took place in Bratislava on 13 and 14 May 2013.

Kristof spoke on a panel with Srdjan Bogosavljevic (Ipsos Strategic Marketing), Milan Nic (CEPI) and Vladimir Todoric (New Policy Center), chaired by MEP György Schöpflin. Kristof focused on what friends of enlargement should push the EU to do in the coming weeks and months.

The first and most urgent opportunity relates to Albania. Kristof made the case for a strong and uncompromising stand by the EU on democratic principles ahead of the 23 June parliamentary elections in Albania.

A second issue is the follow-up to the Belgrade-Pristina agreement. If Serbia carries through its commitments, it is imperative to reward Serbia with the start of accession talks. Failing to do so would send a very bad signal: that it does not pay off to take politically difficult decisions. It would also seriously undermine the EU's (already tainted) credibility in the Balkans. The EU's commitment towards Kosovo's "European perspective" will also soon face a test. If it fails to deliver the start of negotiations of a Stabilisation and Association Agreement, the Kosovar leadership might very well conclude that Kosovo has no real EU perspective. This would not only weaken reformers in Kosovo, but also considerably undermine the EU's influence in Kosovo.

Kristof also talked about important it is to prohibit the (partial) reintroduction of visas for citizens of the Western Balkan states, proposed by some EU interior ministers. Countries concerned about rising numbers of asylum seekers from Serbia and Macedonia should change their asylum procedures and bring them in line with practices of other EU member states (without undermining the rights of asylum seekers). In essence, only those countries with excessively long procedures of 6-8 months (Germany, Sweden and Belgium), have seen a considerable rise in asylum applications from the Western Balkans. In countries with shorter procedures asylum applications from the Western Balkans have stayed the same (as in France) or even declined (as in Austria). While this can be remedied by individual countries by changing their procedures, a respective amendment to the EU asylum procedure directive would be the best solution.

(For a detailed analysis and a full description of the argument read Saving visa-free travel).

Programme

On the panel: Kristof Bender, Milan Nic (CEPI), György Schöpflin (MEP), Jan Figel (Deputy Speaker of the parliament of the Slovak Republic), Miriam Lexman (IRI). Photo: European Ideas Network
On the panel: Kristof Bender, Milan Nic (CEPI), György Schöpflin (MEP), Jan Figel (Deputy Speaker of the parliament of the Slovak Republic), Miriam Lexman (IRI). Photo: European Ideas Network
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Photo credits
Alan Grant is an Irish photographer who travelled extensively in the Balkans and other countries and regions of the world. Thanks to him, ESI is able to show fascinating pictures of the Balkans: the facades of Tirana, the painted mosques of Travnik, the fabulous old houses of Plovdiv and the spectacular blue of water - dark in the Bay of Kotor, emerald in the river valleys of Bosnia, deep blue in Ohrid, twinkling in the Aegean Sea and on the Bosporus.

You can find out more about Alan Grant on his websites:
Jonathan Lewis lives between London and Istanbul. He moved to London and spent many years studying photography and now specialises in photojournalism, documentary photography and commercial work for a wide variety of private and commercial clients in the UK, Europe and Turkey. His work has appeared in a number of magazines and publications and is used on the ESI website as well.

You can find out more about Jonathan Lewis on his website www.jonathanlewisphoto.com