Newsletter 30/2013 - Our South East Europe

ARTICLE by Jelica Minic, Former Deputy Secretary General/Head of Expert Pool, RCC Secretariat

Western Balkans shares European vision of its own future and progresses towards its attainment

A new period is ahead of South East Europe (SEE) with the 2014 at the door. There is some symbolism in the fact that the “new beginning” coincides with the jubilee of the World War I – 1914, 25 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall and 10 years since the big wave of European Union (EU) enlargement with 10 new Member States from Central and Eastern Europe. However, let’s leave the jubilees to the historians and those that are to verify whether the historical messages were interpreted correctly or not. The Regional Cooperation Council (RCC) has the privilege to deal with the future of the region by identifying common interests, finding basis for a common vision and mechanisms for its implementation.        

Implementation of the RCC’s SEE 2020 strategy is to commence next year and it will be yet another accepted mechanism for promoting and measuring social and economic development and progress of the region in the European integration process. Today, Western Balkans, a war zone in Europe two decades ago, shares the European vision of its own future and progresses towards its attainment. Within 6 months, Croatia joined the EU and Serbia was given the date for opening pre-accession negotiations. Montenegro is already negotiation membership, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia has a candidate status, and Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina are associate members. Negotiations on signing the Stabilisation and Association Agreement with Kosovo* are in the pipeline. This progress would have been difficult to achieve without large contribution of other countries - members of the South East European Cooperation Process (SEECP) and Regional Cooperation Council - to creating positive environment in once crisis region. The need for dialogue and common action lead to launching number of regional initiatives and projects. Among them, SEE 2020 is the most challenging one.            

The Strategy was adopted by the governments of the aforesaid countries with the main support provided by the European Union through its Instrument for Pre-accession Assistance (IPA). The Strategy is being implemented by the governments and numerous regional initiatives with the support by the European Commission (EC) and other international partners. Familiarising other important stakeholders and general public with the SEE 2020 will be one of the key challenges. How to add regional cooperation and integration agenda to the European integration agenda for which there is a growing interest? In which areas (trade, energy, transport, local and rural development, public health, education, entrepreneurial training, research & development/R&D, etc.) results have already been generated and how to present them in an integrated and interlinked manner as a comprehensive and effective process? How to tap into the potential of civil society – NGOs, academic institutions, business associations, trade unions, associations of local communities, media? In which phase of SEE 2020 implementation and in what way can all of them become part of the process which is focused on a wide range of stakeholders?  

SEE 2020 messages correspond to some of the topics very much in focus on public scene. Primarily, how to increase employment, improve availability and quality of education and health, the food do we eat, the amount we pay for electricity, level of pollution of the environment we live in and the way to improve public administration. These are the topics of interest to all citizens. Trade, investments, business climate, innovations are topics preoccupying daily all those who have crucial influence on the economic trends. Each of these topics engages academic community, with many of them preoccupying part of the non-governmental sector too. Mapping stakeholders and potential communication channels is one of the first steps in opening a wider debate on objectives, mechanisms and expected results of SEE 2020.     

The Strategy involves implementation of large-scale projects which need critical mass of resources – energy, infrastructure, telecommunications, environmental protection, large industrial production chains and uniform standards as regards trade and investments in regional market. At the same time, these are also the prerequisites and leverages for putting development cycles in motion. Inclusion into the Trans-European networks in these areas is the objective of all countries of the region, and regional networking is a path towards this objective. SEE 2020 is therefore closely linked to the European agenda of each country it pertains to. The changes in IPA and establishment of Western Balkan Investment Framework indicate the expectations of the EU along the same lines – the need for consolidation of assistance for more effective intervention.   

Success is already there. In 2013, Central European Free Trade Agreement (CEFTA) was identified as a “Champion of Regional Cooperation”. Who will be the Champion in 2014 or 2015? They are the components of emerging regional architecture which essentially depends on the stability and direction of development of the European architecture. SEE 2020 Vision draws on the Europe 2020, following its direction. The region as a whole, thus, is getting a step closer to its goal. 

Jelica Minic, a Serbian national, had been Deputy Secretary General and Head of Expert Pool at RCC Secretariat from May 2008 to June 2013. Prior to that Minic had  served in diplomatic, civil society and other posts, most notably as Assistant Minister of Foreign Affairs and Secretary General of the European Movement in Serbia. She also published over 150 articles, essays and book chapters, around 50 conference papers, and edited several books and reviews. She holds a PhD in economics from Faculty of Economics, Belgrade, Serbia.

* This designation is without prejudice to positions on status, and is in line with UNSCR 1244 and the ICJ Opinion on the Kosovo declaration of independence.



Jelica Minić, Former Deputy Secretary General/Head of Expert Pool, RCC Secretariat (Photo RCC/Dinka Živalj)

Jelica Minić, Former Deputy Secretary General/Head of Expert Pool, RCC Secretariat (Photo RCC/Dinka Živalj)