On 18th February 2011, European Movement in Albania (EMA), in cooperation with Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES), organized a policy forum on:"Thessaloniki II - A way to break the status quo of the European Integration Proces". The aim of this forum was to analyze the current situation of the EU enlargement process of the Western Balkan Countries, new proposed initiatives and the role Hungary can play by chairing the EU Presidency. The event was attended by the representatives of: diplomatic corps in Albania, Albanian government, academics, civil society and media.
The meeting was welcomed by Mr. Michael Weichert, Director of Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES) for Albania, who stressed that despite different challenges that the EU is facing, there is an increasing awareness that the process of enlargement needs a new impetus, a new momentum. In this framework, more concrete steps, a clear road map and a reliable timeframe to carry out relevant commitments, are more than necessary. The visa liberalization process was a successful and encouraging story. Among other things, it demonstrated the importance of motivation and the interest of the people of society in the process. Therefore the European integration process should not be left to the governments alone. Actors of the civil society by contributing with their expertise can play a significant role in pushing it forward.
Executive Director of EMA, Mr. Gledis Gjipali, presented the key findings of the EMAs policy paper: "Thessaloniki 2014: In quest of a renewed credibility of the EU enlargement process", initiated by the proposal of the Greek Minister of Foreign Affairs. Such initiative would include organization of a Summit between the EU and Western Balkan countries, during the Greek Presidency of the EU in 2014; strengthening the regional cooperation and establishment of several essential instruments which will make possible the success of the EU accession process. Mr. Gjipali brought into attention that "The essence of the Enlargement Strategy is credibility. In order for the enlargement process to be successful, it has to remain credible for all involved parties, for the aspiring countries but also for the EU Member States". EMA supports the idea that the Western Balkan countries should take advantage of these three years at their disposal to assess and draft accordingly national and regional strategies on how should "Thessaloniki II" look like in their view and what concrete commitments can Western Balkan countries undertake. This would require the revitalization of the existing regional forums, as well as close cooperation with the EU Member States and EU institutions; understanding the importance of advocating for a "Thessaloniki II" with regard to the drafting of the EU Financial Prospective 2014 - 2018; and the expression of political will on the part of Western Balkan countries on this process by undertaking concrete reforms related to state building process.
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs in Albania, Mr. Edmond Haxhinasto, pointed out the importance of continuance of the European integration perspective of the Western Balkan Countries, as a mean to encourage the democratic reforms. Welcoming the organization of this policy forum, he encouraged civil society actors to undertake straightforward, qualitative and permanent initiatives in this respect. This because the European Integration process is a national action where apart from political actors, a significant value in this process is given through the engagement and contribution of other stakeholders of the society. He concluded by stressing that "European integration agenda must be treated as a nationwide process above politics and it cannot be used for personal purposes".
The guest speaker in this forum was the former Hungarian Foreign Minister Mr. Peter Balazs, currently Director of the Center for EU Enlargement European Studies. He mentioned that for Albania as well as other countries of the region is important to have a concrete agenda, timeframe and vision to achieve it. According to him three are the main approaches which should be taken into consideration during the EU Enlargement process of the Western Balkans. The first is the individual approach based on individual merits of each of the countries of the region and in the same time encouraging the competition between countries. The typical example is the visa liberalization process. Regional approach focuses in increasing and strengthening cooperation among countries of the region on issues considered common challenges. The last one is the internal EU approach meaning the will and vision of the EU towards further enlargement with the Western Balkan Countries. Mr. Balazs emphasized that 2014, should serve as a preparatory phase to set up a substantial programme combining the three above mention approaches, serving as a key point for the European Integration perspective of the region. He concluded his speech by pointing out that 2014, is to be consider an important year not only for countries of the region but also for the EU itself. During this period EU will face many challenges related with the functioning of the Lisbon Treaty; new elections for the European Parliament and EU Commission; and the approval of the EU financial perspective 2014 - 2018.
Hungarian Ambassador in Albania, Mr. Sandor Molnari, addressed for the public the main priorities of the Hungarian EU Presidency, stressing: economic rearrangement, stronger Europe, bringing Europe closer to citizens and promotion of the further enlargement. During his speech the Ambassador mentioned the commitment of the Hungarian EU Presidency towards progressing the EU enlargement process by emphasizing that EU perspective of the Western Balkans should serve as an instrument for the stabilization of the region. In this regards, Hungary is committed to finish the negotiation process, which is in the final phase with Croatia and to open the negotiation talks with Macedonia. At the same time, Ambassador pointed out the idea that EU candidate status for Albania is the main objective, for all the stakeholders to dedicate continuous efforts in the future.
In the end the policy forum was followed by an interactive discussion between the panelist and the participants, who shared their point of view regarding the European integration perspective of the Western Balkan Countries and also to the existing bilateral problems. The policy forum was covered and broadcasted in different electronic and printed media.