Paris, 3-4 July, 2016
The Civil Society Forum is an initiative supported by the European fund for the Balkans and organized, among others, by the Erste Foundation and European Alternatives. It aims to bring together different actors and stakeholders from the EU and the Western Balkans region with a view to shape and discuss policy proposals regarding the future of the continent and push them forward to decision makers and politicians. The session in Paris followed three others in Berlin (2014), Vienna (2015) and Belgrade (June 2016).
The Forum reiterated the commitment of participating civil society actors to the integration of Western Balkan countries and urged politicians to push the agenda forward as a response to the challenges of both the region and the EU. It emphasized the need for a shift away from the technocratic approaches and processes that the EU enlargement has previously applied and towards courageous political decisions and long-term considerations.
The meeting indicated that a lot more need to be done for effectively involving stakeholders and civil society actors in an inclusive process of policy-making. The four workshops focusing on migration, bilateral disputes, environment and climate change and governance resulted in more than a few tangible outputs and recommendations that where communicated to MEPs and ministers of EU member states. However, a certain level of discomfort was noted on the part of politicians (especially ministers) when it came to sharing views in an interactive way with the group. Their dislike of dialogue and the lecture-like interventions of Austrian minister of foreign affairs Sebastian Kurz and the French minister of European affairs Harlem Desir were a disappointment to those who believe that deliberation between political elites and the civil society can actually broker improved policy decisions.
The meeting was concluded with a panel discussion including some fascinating insights of academics, political thinkers and artists on the underlying issue of solidarity. The present and future of the EU, the history of its involvement in the Western Balkans, the values and motives behind EU policy making in the region as well as the philosophical origins, psychological and normative externalities of the notion of solidarity were discussed.