Clingendael and the Balkans in Europe Policy Advisory Group (BiEPAG) organised two public events on EU-Western Balkans relations on 28 May (The Hague) and 6 June (Belgrade). The events were an occasion for policy experts, civil society actors, the diplomatic corps and other interested professionals from the Western Balkans and the EU to discuss EU enlargement, the foreign influence in the Western Balkans and the bilateral disputes in the Western Balkans region. They can be seen in light of an increased effort of the Clingendael Institute to strengthen ties with partner organisations in South-Eastern Europe.
The Clingendael Institute hosted the first event at its premises in The Hague. After a brief introduction, the first panel focussed on the EU’s enlargement policy, asking whether the EU is still committed to the European Integration of the Western Balkans, and if its policies are still considered credible in South-Eastern Europe. The second panel revolved around regional stability in South-Eastern Europe, focussing specifically on relations between Serbia and Kosovo and the idea of territorial exchanges between the two countries.
One week later, the European Fund for the Balkans and BiEPAG hosted the second event in Belgrade, partly replicating the programme of the first event. The event was opened by Aleksandra Tomanic, Executive Director of the European Fund for the Balkans and H.E. Henk van den Dool, Ambassador of the Netherlands to Serbia. The ambassador held an insightful speech, noting among others:
“I’m leaving Serbia sadder and wiser than four years ago when I took over this position. The political will can move things forward or hold them back. The latter is now the reality of Serbia. The citizens must insist on transparent and predictable legal system, respect of the fundamental rights, media freedom, as these are the prerequisites for a democratic society.”
The opening was followed by three panel discussions, of which the first revolved around the role of EU member states in the enlargement process, and the Dutch position therein. The second panel focused on foreign influences in the Western Balkans. In the third panel, panellists discussed neighbourly relations between Serbia and Kosovo. Specifically, the idea of territorial exchanges in the context of the normalisation process between the two was addressed.
To listen to Jan Marinus Wiersma's evaluation on the topic, you can find European Policy Center's podcast here ('Obstacles to EU enlargement: the Dutch perspective')