The November 3 Berlin Process Summit, held in the presence of six Western Balkan leaders and key EU luminaries in the context of the so-called “Berlin Process,” yielded a hefty one-billion-euro EU energy support package and a several less interesting but not insignificant regional agreements. Outside of Southeast Europe, the Berlin Process is a relatively little-known initiative of several EU Member States, started in 2014 under German leadership, designed to engage with the EU’s six Western Balkan partners and promote regional cooperation and the European perspective of the region.
The larger EU-Western Balkans Summit is scheduled to take place in Tirana, Albania on December 6 and Albania also has the honor of hosting the 2023 Berlin Process Summit.
As with most other EU-centered processes, the primary focus for the Berlin Process is on the preparation of annual summits, using them as action forcing events to generate new regional agreements and assistance projects. Some however, see the Berlin Process as a form of “half-way house” to keep the Western Balkan countries currently negotiating with Brussels for EU accession focused on cooperative regional projects compatible with EU membership while the accession talks drag on interminably. The project which generates the most suspicion is the so-called “Common Regional Market,” a regional initiative agreed upon by the Western Balkans leaders in Sofia in 2020 to begin bringing together the six regional economies waiting for EU accession. But how long will they wait?
Freer movement across the region
This month’s Berlin Summit yielded six-party agreements on the mutual recognition of identity cards, which will provide for free movement in the region with id cards only, as well as cross-border recognition of university degrees and professional qualifications. The countries signing up included Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Albania and Kosovo. Adding to the complexity of the diplomatic efforts involved, some of these new agreements overlap with the existing “Open Balkans” agreements signed between Serbia, North Macedonia and Albania.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, addressing the Berlin meeting noted “Citizens of the Western Balkans can count on Germany and on the Berlin process. Europe without the Western Balkans is not complete, and the countries of the region should have confidence in the Berlin Process.”
EU officials attending the Summit focused on resolving the Serbia-Kosovo conflict, which in recent weeks has generated rising tensions over the long-running Kosovo-Serbia license plate dispute now that Pristina has decided it will no longer recognize Serbian-issued plates on its territory, a major problem for Kosovo’s Serbs who insist on keeping older license plates issued by the former ruling Serbian authorities.
Discussions were reportedly held on the Summit’s sidelines regarding Serbia’s growing role as a transit point for increasing numbers of new refugees from the Middle East and elsewhere taking advantage of cheap flights to Belgrade.
EU leaders bearing gifts
Attending the Berlin Summit were Commission President Ursula von der Leyen along with High Representative Josep Borrell and European Council President Charles Michel. They highlighted the European Commission’s regional economic support initiatives as the war in Ukraine drags on.
In the near term, the Commission has offered to provide €500 million in budget support for the region, which will be adopted in December and available in January 2023. These funds will support households and small and medium sized enterprises to cushion against energy price increases and their impact.
Over the short- and medium term, the Commission will make available another €500 million to advance energy diversification, renewable energy generation and gas and electricity interconnections through the Western Balkans Investment Framework.