This own-initiative opinion will draw upon the first-hand experiences of the non-state actors (civil society, business and trade unions) engaged in the accession negotiations between Croatia and the EU over the period 2005-11, as well as experiences of EESC members who have been engaged in the work of Joint Consultative Committees (JCCs) with accession countries over the past seven years (Croatia, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Turkey and Montenegro) as well as the Western Balkans Follow-up Committee.
The EESC is actively engaged in the enlargement process of the EU and has developed a dual approach - regional and bilateral - for its relations with civil society organisations (CSOs) in the enlargement countries.
As far as the regional approach is concerned, the Western Balkans Follow-up Committee – a permanent internal body of the EESC – is the main instrument for coordinating the EESC's activities in this region. The Western Balkans Civil Society Forum, organised every two years, is part of the work of the Follow-up Committee.
The EESC also works bilaterally with countries of the Western Balkans and Turkey. On the basis of association agreements between these countries and the EU, in order to involve CSOs in the pre-accession and accession processes, the EESC has created three joint bodies with civil society representatives – with Turkey, Montenegro and Serbia. Each body is composed of an equal number of members from the EESC and the partner country and meets twice a year.
The EESC keeps up regular contacts and organises joint activities with the CSOs of enlargement countries with whom no joint body of civil society representatives has yet been established.
The work of the joint bodies is complemented by the preparation of EESC opinions on the pre-accession and accession processes of individual countries, as well as on topics of regional interest.
The EESC welcomes the special attention devoted to drawing up a European Union Strategy for the Adriatic and Ionian Region (EUSAIR), in order to support cohesion and competitiveness in the light of challenges that cannot be satisfactorily resolved by single regions or countries through the usual means. The EESC believes that EUSAIR must adopt a comprehensive programme with an action-oriented list of projects and schemes, and strongly recommends that better use be made of the private sector's potential to attract investment (both local and international) and to create business opportunities. Simultaneously, the strategy should include a stronger social dimension, in order to better support inclusive growth in the Adriatic and Ionian region.
The opinion should take stock of the current situation of civil society in Serbia (legal environment, relations with the authorities, situation of social and civil dialogues) and propose recommendations for possible EU action in this field. The opinion will provide an opportunity to get the views of Serbian civil society organisations in the course of a study visit to Serbia.