The Secretary of the Regional Cooperation Council of the Western Balkans, Majlinda Bregu, explains in an interview with DW why the Berlin Process should continue even after the departure of Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Deutsche Welle: Mrs. Bregu, in the Western Balkans, the impression has been created that the Berlin Process, initiated by Chancellor Angela Merkel seven years ago was nothing more than an opportunity for heads of state and government of the region to take pictures of beautiful with the German chancellor. Has the Berlin Process achieved anything concrete in recent years, other than the abolition of roaming tariffs in the region?
Majlinda Bregu: Abolishing roaming tariffs is not so simple. It took the EU almost ten years, while the Western Balkans achieved it in two years. I think this is a great success. The project of a Western Balkans without roaming has not only practical significance. There is also a symbolic component, which shows us that we can achieve things only if we work together and meet the expectations of the citizens in the region.
This is definitely the only successful combination and that is why we prefer to talk about roaming tariffs. But the Berlin Process has many other aspects: it is still the only forum in which the heads of state and government of the six Western Balkan countries can discuss and shape their common priorities with some of the EU countries, the EU Commission, civil society and international financial institutions.
Deutsche Welle: One of the current initiatives for the Western Balkans is the Common Regional Market, for which you as RCC Secretary have worked very intensively. It aims to realize by 2024 the four EU freedoms, the free movement of people, goods, services and capital. But since November 2020, when this plan was approved in Sofia, little progress has been made? Why?
The common market is an excellent opportunity to establish in the Western Balkans region something similar to the EU. The World Bank has calculated that this alone will increase the gross national product of the Western Balkans by 6.4 percent. Since last year we have worked hard to advance the negotiations on the agreement on the free movement of people with ID cards.
Technically, there is no obstacle to accepting this deal. All countries have shown readiness to support it. This agreement would be another positive milestone if we managed to remove political obstacles in the coming months. An argument in favor of this project is a Balkan Barometer survey, according to which 42 percent of Kosovar citizens confirmed that they would travel more often within the Western Balkans if they could move freely with only one identity card.
Deutsche Welle: On July 5, 2021, the heads of government of the Western Balkans did not specify a new format in which the Berlin Process should continue after this eighth meeting. Do you think that the Western Balkans Initiative will get the same attention even after Chancellor Merkel is no longer Chancellor?
Officially, all participants in the Berlin Process stress the need for its continuation to realize the full potential of improved regional cooperation, also in order to overcome the socio-economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. It now remains to be seen how things will go in practice.
Chancellor Angela Merkel's personal contribution and commitment to the integration of the Western Balkans into the EU and to the improvement of regional cooperation has been of great importance. Its leadership role has shaped the region and will have a long-term effect. As the Chancellor points out again and again: Europe can only be successful if we work together. Even the countries of the Western Balkans have no choice but to listen to this wise woman and cooperate./DW