An Unaccomplished Process
By Zef Preci
Albanian Daily News
Published July 11, 2017
As it is known the initiative for the deepening of the cooperation among the countries of the Western Balkans was launched by the representatives of the European Commission and the consecutive countries (Austria and France) on August 28, 2014 in Berlin from where it took the name as the "Berlin Process", was followed by the annual conferences of Vienna (August 27, 2015) and of Paris (July 4, 2016) and the last meeting will be held in Trieste this week. The initiative was anticipated to last 4 years, i.e. it ends in 2018.
The gist of this initiative has been and remains 'to keep open' the door of the integration of the countries of the Western Balkans part of which Albania is, that it the maintaining of the integration rhythm of these countries, the encouragement of the political dialogue to overcome the bilateral problems which pave the way for a more economic intensive cooperation at regional level; the offer of a financial support stemming from the needs of the special countries, but which have regional accentuation like infrastructure (energy, transport etc), the support of the continuation of the reforms which consolidate democracy and market economy in these countries leaving behind as much as possible and as quick as possible the conflicts and the inherited backwardness.
In this way, through the reformation processes at a growing regional dimensions, it was expected by the EU leaders and Germany that the necessary conditions would be created for the increase of regional security and stability, the creation of mutual trust and the establishment of good neighborhood relations for the modernization of the governance, society and economy in each country.
In its thoroughness, this process was based on the establishment of priorities of regional cooperation as an instrument which would bring closer the Western Balkans to the EU not simply and individually special countries but under the concept of a regional market made up of 20 million people. This means that the intensification of the regional cooperation has been considered during the whole process as the foundation of the progress of the specific countries towards the EU.
In this frame a number of coordinating organisms were also set up with the aim of a wider inclusion of the governments of the participating countries, but also of other factors like the academic world, civil society etc.
Albania has become house of two such coordinating organisms: The Youth Regional Organizations and the Fund of the Western Balkans. While Serbia, for a number of reasons, including also its geographical position, is playing an important role in the business field.
Being seeing in its thoroughness, the expected result of this process has been the improvement of governance, that is, the promotion of good governance as a way helping for a sustainable economic growth.
In the frame of the implementation of the initiative in questions an agenda of actions was compiled in the first launching meeting of this undertaking. Seeing things from the point of view of the balance sheet a year before the end of the initiative, different reports speak of about 50 regional initiatives most of which, as it is evaluated, "have functioned in compliance with the relevant objectives", while with regard to the financial point of view it is mentioned "the 50 million euro support for energy projects for the countries of the Western Balkans".
According to my opinion, this initiative being seen beyond "the good will" of Germany and personally of Mrs. Merkel as one of the most important leaders of EU, has also created the favorable terrain to boost the regional cooperation and offered also the necessary financial resources for this goal.
But how much these possibilities were used for the quickening of the development of the special countries
I think that more than economically or in the function of the improvement of the infrastructure, this initiative has served to the leaders of the governments of the regional countries for domestic political consumption, for the consecutive elections etc. which, in my view, speaks of leadership weakness of special countries, for pursuing patriotic stories which have been overcome with the passing of time, grotesque from time to time, but which do not produce an added value for the 20 million citizens of the region.
In the case of Albania, it should be mentioned the failure for the resolution of the problem of Albania- Kosovo transmitting line, a project which has financially cost 70 million euros to the finances of both countries. As it is known, this is a technical and political matter between Kosovo and Serbia, which is not resolved even through the intervention of the European power regulating institutions.
But the resolution has not been found either in the numerous meetings and different formats between the premiers of Albania and Serbia, Rama and Vucic respectively, who, according to me, should have also produced a resolution to this sector.
Likewise, the public refusal of the former premier of Kosovo, Mustafa made to the Commissioner Hahn to go forward with the common market of the countries of the Western Balkans and the interpretation of this market as a call for the recreation of new Yugoslav empire testify that the Albanian leadership in the confrontations in the region are still far from the expectations of the citizens of the relevant countries.
Rather, it should be said that such stances, as the latest one, ignore also the realities of the commercial exchanges among the countries of the region and developments especially after the last two decades.
Speaking bluntly, this is a worldwide known indicator that regardless of the progress of the free trade agreement (CEFTA), as a matter of fact, it is only the "Yugo-Sphere", which functions, something which means that only the lifting of barriers of free movement of cultures, capitals and goods remains the only real opportunity for the increase of the competing power of the special economies, for the boost of the local production and exports and on this basis for the sep by rapprochement with the EU.
It is high time that the political leaders of the Western Balkans become more realistic for the dangers of this time and such phenomena like the growth of the influence of oligarchs and business lobbies in the political and economic life of specific countries which not only restrain the economic development and regional integration but also bring about the drop of consumers, the move of citizens towards western countries creating irreparable "fractures" for the future of specific countries.
Unfortunately the governments of Albania and Kosovo have much to do to create hope and confidence among their citizens that these countries are places where it can be lived and they will become better in the near future.
At the same time, I think that more can be done by the governments of the region to build mutual confidence for a common European future. This might also be the way to restrain somewhat the cultural aggression and efforts of Turkey of Erdogan to increase their economic influence, but of other great powers which are interested politically and economically in the region which try t turn the Western Balkans into their historical "bed" as the problematic region of Europe.
The fact that specific countries were not (and they are not yet) capable to build joint projects and programs for which EU and Germany offered their financial support testifies also for the lack of capacities and expertise of the relevant governments to treat this very important process as an opportunity for the promotion of the individual political agendas of political leaders, but which are not in line with the immediate interests of the citizens of the relevant countries.
So in the case of Albania, it would have been in the interest of its national economy but also of the region and beyond, the investments in the road infrastructure North-South close to the Riviera in the service of tourism. But this field of economy cannot really develop if the "Damocles sword" stands on it and all the responsible citizens of this country are threatened by allowing the waste import or recycling things whatever they might be.
The same thing can be said on the need to study and invest in inter- state projects enabling the exploitation of water resources for producing electricity, the creation of links between the exploitation of important mineral resources of Albania and Kosovo with the processing industries established in Serbia, Montenegro etc.
By this I want to say that even during the remaining time the Berlin Process can produce wishful and achievable economic and social consequences for the citizens of the regional countries more than TV chronicles cloaked with standard smiles and handshaking between the regional leaders who as soon as they turn back home continue to "govern" just like before...
In the meantime when speaking of the overcoming of the political problems of the region, I think that there are two limiting lines which should not be ignored. Firstly, it is the fact that the weakening of EU during the last decade under the effect of the global economic crisis and Brexit, the problems created with the newcomers of the club (which for the sake of truth are not different from those of the countries of our region) have created a favorable atmosphere for the increase of the arrogance of political leaders, i.e. for the weakening of the democracy itself in these countries (for example the problems with the general elections in Macedonia and Kosovo) which go that far as its liquidation like in the case of the failed coup d'etat in Montenegro etc.
Likewise, even the political and economic influence of great powers aspiring for a greater presence in the region, and consequently for influence on EU itself, has grown, something which due to the small size of the market in the Western Balkans and the adverse developments in the relations between the contemporary great powers, cannot fail to influence, and in any case condition, the political developments in special countries.
In the meantime, I think that the continuation of the Berlin Process, considering it as an "unaccomplished process" in the field of economy, which is very important for a rapid economic and social resurrection after the crisis, can serve for pursuing more realistic relations of the regional countries with the EU, more realistic assessment and evaluation of the progress of the progress towards their membership in thins union. Also it can serve to convey direct signals of the European leaders on the economic, social and political developments in the countries of this region.
With regards to the creation of a WB common market, I think that the preparation of the necessary terrain, i.e. institutional, fiscal, customs, economic etc. should be the highlight of the Trieste Summit being seen as the first serous step guaranteeing the achievement of the initiative itself, the increase of the stability in the regional countries and in addition it approaches much more and quicker these countries to the EU.
This is not a dream, but an opportunity that should be seized, and should not be let pass by.
All circumstances exist that through a broad consulting process, institutional cooperation, the cost and profits for the establishment of this market should be studied. The least is that it can make possible is the establishment of cooperating links between raw material resources and their processing which optimizes the costs of production and so it makes that gradually a dignified partner and EU candidate, leaving in second stage the individual race of countries, or even the "tricks" and pressures for "possibilities of considering other alternatives".
It is high time that the political leaders of the Western Balkans become more realistic for the dangers of this time and such phenomena like the growth of the influence of oligarchs and business lobbies in the political and economic life of specific countries which not only restrain the economic development and regional integration but also bring about the drop of consumers, the move of citizens towards western countries creating irreparable "fractures" for the future of specific countries. Unfortunately the governments of Albania and Kosovo have much to do to create hope and confidence among their citizens that these countries are places where it can be lived and they will become better in the near future.