The third Western Balkans Summit took place in Paris in July 2016, resulting in substantial progress for civil society organisations in the region as well as an important development in Serbia’s efforts to accede to the EU.
The standout achievement from the summit was the establishment of the Regional Youth Cooperation Office (RYCO) for the Western Balkans, building on a major commitment from the 2015 summit in Belgrade. It affirms the role that young people have to play in the “stability, sustainable development and progress in the region” and promises a cooperative approach to regional development and reconciliation involving the equal participation of government and civil society.
The organisation, which will begin its operations on January 1, 2017, is committed to supporting activities that promote reconciliation, mobility, diversity, democracy, active citizenship and intercultural learning, and will actively engage civil society in pursuit of its goals.
Furthermore, the Summit was also notable for assigning a prominent role to regional organisations, including the Regional Cooperation Council, in enhancing regional cooperation, which will work towards increasing connectivity between populations and developing cross-border initiatives and joint ventures.
Finally, Croatia has agreed to no longer block the opening of chapters 23 and 24 in Serbia’s EU accession talks, concerning the judiciary and fundamental rights, and justice, freedom and security, respectively. These areas, which the Commission deems to require considerable effort, are fundamental to strengthening the role of civil society in the country and protecting people’s rights. Even though this is a positive step, difficulties are likely to remain as relations have since worsened over the memory of the wars in the 1990s and previous conflicts. If relations do not improve, Croatia has the power to derail Serbia’s move towards accession.
The Summit envisaged the future of the region to be of integration with Europe, cooperating and trading regionally and tackling the present challenges of migration, terrorism and radicalisation, and key steps were made to making this a reality.
This is welcome news to ECAS, which has long aspired to build the capacity of CSOs in the region, and has a proven record in the region through projects such as the IMPACT Office, which worked towards building the capacities of Croatian CSOs in the framework of its accession to the EU. Currently, ECAS is using its expertise to develop sustainable and high-performing CSOs in the region by coordinating regional projects, providing technical assistance and providing tailored conferences, study visits and training.
On November 29, ECAS will launch the European network of Triple A – Access to information, Advice and Active help – for Citizens in the region, as part of the European Commission’s partnership programme for Civil Society. The project will establish a platform of civil society organisations providing information, advice and legal aid, and is based on the principle that everyone has the right to be informed on their rights and seek remedy for their enforcement.