[Focus Article] – Taking stock of Berlin Process /Joint Science Conference Achievements

Laying the foundations for an increased regional cooperation and sustainable growth in the Western Balkans

Taking stock of Berlin Process /Joint Science Conference achievements

On the invitation of the German Chancellor Angela Merkel, an intergovernmental conference on the Western Balkans was held in Berlin on 28 August 2014. It was the launching conference of the Western Balkans Process as a platform for high-level cooperation between high official representatives of the Western Balkan Six (WB6) and their peers in Berlin Process host countries.

The Berlin Process was initiated to utilize the potential of increased regional cooperation in the Western Balkans. The idea was to foster specific projects in order to increase connectivity in the region, as well as good neighborly relations and interpersonal relationships, while subsequently supporting the EU integration. 

The Process involves the EU institutions, international financial institutions and the region’s civil society, youth and businesses. Since 2014, the Berlin Process has aimed to improve and intensify regional integration as well as to help accelerate the entire Western Balkan region’s closer alignment with the EU.

In detail, expand cooperation among the Western Balkan states and create a basis of mutual trust – this is what the Berlin Process is seeking to achieve. The focus in on regional cooperation and stability through:

  • Resolution of outstanding bilateral and internal issues
  • Achieving reconciliation within and between the societies in the region
  • Enhancing regional economic cooperation
  • Laying the foundations for sustainable growth.

The Process concentrates in this context on areas such as infrastructure development and connectivity, business, regional youth exchanges, reconciliation and science. With the establishment of the Regional Youth Cooperation Office (RYCO), the agreement to develop a Common Regional Market, the signing of the Regional Roaming Agreement and the creation of “green lanes” to speed up border procedures with key goods in the time of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Berlin Process brought significant results that are tangible for the people in the region and that are intended to prepare the region for accession to the EU.

The Berlin Process was initially projected to last for four years, but it has continued. In parallel, also the number of EU member states taking part in the Process has been growing by year – Poland hosted the 2019 Summit and Bulgaria co-hosted the 2020 Summit jointly with North Macedonia. 

Main parties and stakeholders in the process are:

  • The Western Balkan Six
  • EU member states (Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Slovenia, United Kingdom)
  • EU institutions (EC, EEAS)
  • International financial institutions
  • High official representatives of the WB6
  • Civil society – think tanks and activist organisations
  • Youth organisations
  • Businesses and their associations

So far there have been 8 Western Balkans Summits: 

and 100+ preparatory and follow up meetings, bringing together the Western Balkans actors.

The process indeed proceeds through a series of meetings: beside the annual Western Balkans Summits at the level of Prime Ministers and Ministers, with high-level representatives of the EU and member states, international financial institutions, and regional organisations involved in the Process, annual events of the region’s civil society, youth, and businesses are also organised. Other preparatory events as well as ministerial level meetings (currently the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Health, Interior, and Economy) and annual conferences of the national academies of sciences are also part of the process.

The 8th Berlin Process Summit

This year the series of digital meetings started on 1 and 2 June with the Civil Society Forum opening conference. The Foreign Ministers Meeting took place on 8 June, followed by the Health Ministers Meeting on 17 June, the Interior Ministers Meeting on 29 June and the Economic Affairs Ministers Meeting on 30 June. During this time, there was also a youth conference organised by the RYCO, the Roma Ministers Meeting on 28 June, a Joint Science Conference, and the second part of the Civil Society Forum. Finally, the Berlin Process Summit, hosted by Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel, was held virtually on 5 July.

The event focused on expanding and deepening regional cooperation among the Western Balkan economies as well as on the achievements to date, the additional efforts needed to boost connectivity in the region and economic progress. It reviewed progress in the ambitious commitments undertaken by the Western Balkan partners including the Common Regional Market (CRM), the Green Agenda and the Digital Agenda (GAWB), as well as the Connectivity Agenda and to look forward to the roll out of the European Commission’s Economic and Investment Plan.

The current focus is on creating a common market with the aim of establishing the four fundamental EU freedoms within the Western Balkan economies. The strategic goal remains to achieve rapprochement between the Western Balkans and the EU to enable EU membership after extensive reforms

Tacking stock of the BP achievements

The annual summits held within the Berlin Process as well as the collateral numerous meetings have had the clear goal to intensify the relations and interactions between the EU and the WB high-level politicians. The Berlin Process led to a sequence of significant results in all four areas of regional cooperation – the areas of economic, political and security policy, social as well as the field of ecological change. It is worth to mention that the BP so far allowed transforming those important challenges of the Western Balkan economies into regional cooperation issues for joint discussion.

Amongst the thematic areas are the infrastructure gap, youth unemployment, low competitiveness of economies and distant prospects of economic convergence with the EU, slow progress in reconciliation, bilateral issues, education and research, Roma integration, and environmental issues.

As stated in the “The achievements and the future of the Berlin Process”, the Process  also encouraged the WB6 to rev up the legal and regulatory reforms in line with the acquis. In this sense, it contributed to WB6 rapprochement to the EU and maintained the transformative influence of the Union in the region.

The BP has also succeeded to keep the WB6 on the agenda of the EU and institutions. It contributed to the cooperation of the WB6-governments and to new forms of interlinking, and first and foremost to offer a consistent format for all 6 Western Balkan economies. Examples are the Common Regional Market, RYCO, and other institutions in the making. In the scope of the from the Berlin Process initiated initiatives led to an increase of the WB6-governments to take over more responsibility for the Process in the region.


Joint Science Conference

After the launching conference of the political initiative Western Balkans Process, the Leopoldina as Germany’s National Academy, was entrusted by the German Federal Government to take over the initiative in the field of education, science and society. A new platform was initiated as a standing conference, the so-called Joint Science Conference.

The circle of stakeholders is composed of national academies of sciences and arts, rectors’ conferences and leading universities, research organisations as well as distinguished scientists, junior scientists and experts invited ad personam. Further representatives of (international) organisations, the European Commission, national governments and embassies can take part as invited participants or observers.

The conferences examine the challenges and necessary improvements for the science systems in the Western Balkans and broader South East Europe. The results are usually summarised in Joint Statements, Final Conclusions or Communiqués. These are fed into the annual Western Balkans Leaders’ Summits in form of recommendations and independent advice.

The first conference, was held in  July 2015 in Halle and Berlin (Germany) and it was the starting point for a series of annual conferences in unison with the summits of Heads of State and Government. The second event took place in May 2016 in Vienna (Austria). The third conference convened from 14 to 16 June 2017 in Paris (France) and the fourth conference took place from 30 May to 1 June 2018 in Rome (Italy). The next conference was organised in May 2019 at The Royal Society in London (UK) while no conference was organised in 2020. In 2021 the 6th Joint Science Conference was held online on 1-2 July.

 For more information on the several conferences held, please click here.

Find more information on The Berlin Process and its related events and activities here

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