A delegation of the European Integration Committee took part in the 16th Conference of the European Integration/Affairs Committees of States Participating in the Stabilisation and Association Process of the South-East Europe (COSAP) 16-17 January 2020 in Tirana, Albania. The Conference was attended by delegations of the COSAP member states – Albania, North Macedonia, Serbia and Montenegro. A Pristina delegation took part as an observer, and the conference was also attended by representatives of the EU, Croatia as the country currently presiding over the EU Council and representatives of the Regional Cooperation Council. The delegation of the European Integration Committee comprised Committee Chairman Nenad Canak and Committee substitute member Dubravka Filipovski.
The parliamentarians discussed the role and responsibility of parliaments in the Berlin Process and the current challenges of the Western Balkans’ EU accession process with a special focus on mobility of young people, recognition of diplomas, interconnectivity and transport.
In the introductory part of the Conference the participants were addressed by the Speaker of the Albanian Parliament Gramoz Ruci, Chairperson of the European Integration Committee Rudina Hajdari, Secretary-General of the Regional Cooperation Council Majlinda Bregu and the Head of the European Union Delegation to Albania Luigi Soreca. Albanian Minister of Infrastructure and Energy Belinda Balluku and Croatian Ambassador to Albania Zlatko Kramaric also took part in the COSAP meeting. They stressed that the Western Balkans should be a region that promotes peace, freedom and security, uses resources and capital rationally and strengthens its competitiveness. They have high hopes of the improved EU enlargement methodology and hope that the enlargement process will be continued during Croatia’s Presidency of the EU Council and that accession talks will be opened with Albania and North Macedonia. It was concluded that the region has to demonstrate political commitment and fulfil its obligations concerning European integration, but the EU too has to offer a clearer European perspective to the region and keep the enlargement policy high on its agenda.
Panel I focused on the mobility of young people, their unemployment and demographic and migration trends in the region. The parliamentarians emphasized the importance of improving the quality of education and training system, employing active measures to improve the working environment and promote entrepreneurship, as well as youth mobility in the region, as chief prerequisites for a better life of the young population. The participants stressed the need to strengthen the young people’s trust in the region’s prospects and the opportunities it offers, as well as actively engage them in key social and political processes. They praised the regional initiative for reciprocal recognition of diplomas and endorsed the work of the Regional Youth Cooperation Office formed under the auspices of the Berlin Process.
Nenad Canak said that Albania is an excellent example of a country that has made significant progress after being closed for half a century. In the 21st century, people are believed not to be distinguished by race, religion or nationality, but level of education. The European Union’s attitude to Albania and North Macedonia brought the Euro-enthusiasts’ trust in the European Union into question, who believe that the Union’s attitude to the region is not good. The Western Balkans has a great many obligations to fulfil in the accession process and gets nothing in return, which makes us unable to respond to the Euro-sceptics’ criticisms. People are leaving the Western Balkans because they do not trust that the situation would improve. That is why it is essential to send a message to the European Union and European Parliament that we will do our part, but it is up to them to fulfil their promises. The European Union must understand that the Western Balkans will be either a constructive part of the Union or the focal point of instability. Canak said that the Republic of Serbia stands firm on the path to the European Union.
Panel II, dedicated to interconnectivity in the Western Balkans, focused on regional transport and energy projects and measures to promote the free movement of people, goods and capital in the region. The parliamentarians stressed the importance of regional economic cooperation for the strengthening of the regions’ competitiveness, stressing that the focus must be on quality and sustainability rather than speedy solutions. They emphasized digital connectivity as an especially important element of interconnectivity and praised the work on the Digital Agenda for the Western Balkans.
Dubravka Filipovski said that Euro-integration is the key foreign policy priority of the Republic of Serbia which supports any progress in the resolution of outstanding issues because this contributes to its speedier EU accession. Serbia and the rest of the region’s economic growth is impossible without maintaining regional stability and promoting good-neighbourly relations. Economic development should be sped up, as well as foreign investment encouraged, competitiveness and export boosted and entrepreneurship promoted. She listed Serbia’s transport and infrastructure priorities, adding that securing funds for infrastructural projects and implementation of reform connectivity measures would be a big challenge for Serbia and its Western Balkan neighbours. Therefore, close cooperation between the Western Balkans and the EU will be a priority and necessity for the development of the transportation network in this part of Europe to match that in its other parts and enable the unimpeded transport of goods and passengers which would in turn contribute to the speedy economic growth of each of the participants in the process. She also spoke about youth mobility, saying that Serbia’s IT as well as other sectors lack employees. Filipovski went on to present the statistics concerning the recognition of foreign qualifications in Serbia in the case of diplomas from the region.
The 16th COSAP was completed with the adoption of a Joint Statement endorsing the initiative for the active engagement of parliaments in the Berlin Process which would additionally strengthen the cooperation between the parliaments in the region and their cooperation with the European Parliament and the EU member states.