22 May 2023
Fifty years after the first enlargement of the European Union and ten years since the last one, the EU integration of the Western Balkans is back on the agenda, revitalised by Russia’s aggressive war in Ukraine.
The radically changed geopolitical context in Europe should trigger and intensify the enlargement debate in the EU and advance solutions to the long-standing stumbling blocks and unresolved tensions, thus securing unity and strong political ambition for the challenges ahead.
The European Liberal Forum, supported by the ALDE Party and the Atlantic Club of Bulgaria, had the pleasure to host the second EU meets the Balkans Forum on May 16 in Sofia Tech Park. The Forum brought together EU leaders, foreign ministers, policymakers, NGO representatives, and youth to discuss the next steps towards enhanced regional cooperation and EU integration of the region.
ALDE Party Co-President & Renew Europe MEP Ilhan Kyuchyuk opened the Forum by admitting that the integration of the Western Balkans is back to the EU agenda following Russia’s war in Ukraine. “What makes the EU strong are our values. If we step back from our values and idea, if we allow the dictatorships to prevail over democratic thinking, this will threaten the Europen project”, MEP Kyuchyuk said.
ELF Executive Director Alva Finn talked about the work of ELF in the area of EU enlargement in her opening speech: “More than a year after Ukraine‘s invasion, we must move past the waiting room approach of the EU enlargement, which hasn’t been working. We don’t want the EU partners to languish for decades in limbo. ELF proposes a more dynamic approach to EU enlargement – ‘staged integration’. It will help all parties to deliver real change for Western Balkan citizens. Enlargement isn’t simply a policy. It’s the completion of the project of stability, peace & prosperity.”
The European Parliament President, Roberta Metsola, address the Forum audience with an inspiring message and a personal story: “The EU membership prospect serves as a powerful tool to promote reforms. Both & countries in the region will benefit from integrating the Western Balkans.”
Commissioner for Neighbourhood & Enlargement Oliver Varhelyi delivered a keynote speech on addressing common challenges for the candidate countries: “The EU enlargement is a priority now. The reality on the ground is going to change massively. We have to be competitive. We can’t force people in the Western Balkans & elsewhere to choose us,” Commissioner Varhelyi said.
ELF Policy and Research Officer Dr Maria Alesina opened the panel on ‘Ukraine Reconstruction’ by presenting ELF’s new study, ‘Designed in Brussels, Made in Ukraine’. The new study, which you can read here, covers the EU accession process, post-war recovery, and underexplored areas for bilateral cooperation. Dr Alesina, who is the Editor of the study, emphasised that “Rebuilding Ukraine is closely linked to the European integration of Ukraine, and these two processes should go in parallel, be mutually reinforcing and accelerate each other.”
The European Liberal Forum is grateful to the ALDE party and the Atlantic Club of Bulgaria for their support in organising this Forum and bringing all the stakeholders together to discuss and debate the past and the future of EU enlargement.
You can watch the full live stream of the event here: