On 12-13th May, Civil Society Forum 2016 took place in Novi Sad/Belgrade, Serbia under the umbrella of the “Civil Society Forum of the Western Balkans Summit Series” and building on the Civil Society Forum held on the margins of the Vienna Summit of the Berlin Process in August 2015. With the aim of the Forum to contribute to a greater role, visibility and impact of the civil society in the Berlin process and the broader EU integration process of the Western Balkan countries, over 100 CSO representatives gathered to discuss and develop common positions towards political leaders and their governments, including BCSDN’s Executive Director Tanja Hafner Ademi. While the Forum attempted to focus on the broader issue of civil society participation in agenda setting of the Berlin Process, its main focus has been on the agenda set by EU and WB Governments for the Paris Summit: youth cooperation (setting-up of RYCO-Regional Youth Cooperation Office), migration crisis, solving of bilateral disputes and environment/climate change.
While all of these thematic areas are undoubtedly important for the socio-economic development of the region and its citizens, the Forum was not able to avoid the discussion on the decreasing democracy trends both in the EU and Western Balkans and the lack of connection of the Berlin Process to the Accession agenda and (monitoring) mechanism, which can lead to undermining the success of the Berlin Process. It is certain that the Paris Summit taking place on 4th July will include a parallel Civil Society Forum that is working on bringing forward valuable and effective recommendations on all discussed topics (effectively via the BiEPAG group), but it remains to be seen if Paris will pass the test of a real partnership Forum, where civil society will be let into setting the agenda and into independent monitoring of the Berlin process implementation. In summary, the difference between formalities of the Berlin Process and its real contribution to the EU integration process is clear: the Berlin Process agenda must be directly linked to the Accession agenda. Civil society inclusion can then clearly be structured via existing EU integration and reform civil society structures bringing added-value and synergizing effects of processes both locally and regionally. Otherwise it faces to remain a one-day PR event for decision-makers detached from any local reform processes for benefits to the citizens.
Civil Society Forum is a joint initiative of the European Fund for the Balkans (EFB) and ERSTE Foundation, supported by the Regional Cooperation Council (RCC) and the EU Delegation in Serbia, and in close cooperation with the European Movement in Serbia – Local Council in Novi Sad, Center for Regionalism, EU Info Point Novi Sad and the Provincial Secretariat for Science and Technological Development. To follow preparations till and developments at the Paris Summit visit Civil Society Forum website.