The EESC is a strong proponent of enlargement as it is in the interest of both sides - the Western Balkans and the EU. The success of this policy is a major factor for the EU's global standing and the cornerstone of Europe's stability and prosperity. The EESC is therefore convinced that the accession process should be pursued further with both vigour and rigour as one of the EU's top priorities.
In this opinion, the EESC highlights the role of women as a key driving force for the consolidation of democracy, respect for human rights and freedoms, and economic and social progress. The purpose of the opinion is to raise awareness about and promote women's political, social and economic rights and gender equality in the Western Balkans. Gender mainstreaming can be successful only if there is a strong political will and belief in the benefits that equality between women and men would bring to society.
The EESC emphasises the importance of developing a gender equality roadmap and measures that could lead to a more equal distribution of power and resources in the Western Balkans. Women's rights groups, business associations and trade unions have been active in promoting the role of women in the region and there is a need for further focused and persistent work with civic and social partners in order to be effective in fighting and advocating for women's rights.
The EESC reiterates the need for Western Balkan partners to mainstream the gender perspective into all relevant programmes funded through the Instrument for Pre-accession Assistance (IPA II), particularly in policy area 3, which includes employment, social policies, education, promotion of gender equality and human resources development. Thematic funds for combating domestic violence and support for women's civic and media activism should be developed.
Clear and sustained commitment to gender equality as a founding value of the EU should be guaranteed. The EESC encourages the Commission to include critical gender equality indicators in its benchmarking system for the accession negotiations, developed and monitored in close collaboration with social and civic partners who are committed to women's empowerment in the region and across the EU. The systemic application of a gender perspective should be treated as a horizontal benchmark for assessing the acceptability and quality of the legislative process as part of the accession negotiations.