At the request of the current Bulgarian presidency of the Council of the EU, the EESC was asked to prepare an exploratory opinion on the challenges and priorities that countries of the Western Balkans are facing in the European integration process, as well as in the area of economic and social cohesion. Western Balkans will be one of the policy priorities of the Bulgarian presidency and a Western Balkans Summit is scheduled to take place in May 2018 in Sofia. Following the recent economic crises in Europe, the forecasts for economic growth in the Western Balkans are now good, although progress on reform has been slow, the rule of law has been weak, and corruption is persistent.
The Western Balkans Conference was planned as a civil society contribution to the EU-Western Balkans Heads of State Summit, scheduled by the Bulgarian Presidency that took place on 17 May 2018 in Sofia. The Conference gathered EESC members, civil society representatives of the countries of the Western Balkans, as well as Bulgarian officials and members of the organized civil society (including social partners from the Economic and Social Council of Bulgaria). The outcome of the Conference was shared with the participants of the EU-Western Balkans Summit.
The European Union and the Western Balkans have a shared interest in working more closely together to guarantee all our citizens economic and social development, as well as security. The future of the region is a European future. The EU and the Western Balkans economies have benefited from closer integration as trade doubled in the last 10 years. The EU is today the first trading partner of the region, the biggest investor and the most credible and reliable political and geostrategic partner.
Croatia and the whole Western Balkan region appear very high on the agenda of external relations of the EESC. We run quite a wide range of activities with the various countries of the Western Balkan region: we issue opinions, operate together with our partners in the Joint Consultative Committees, and since 2006 we also come together to specific Civil Society Forums with representatives of the organised civil society from the entire Western Balkan region. The representatives from Croatia have very actively taken part in these events and have shared their experience with the other participants.
The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) has developed a dual approach, regional and bilateral, for its relations with civil society organizations (CSOs) of the Western Balkans.
The EU Neighbourhood, especially the candidates and potential candidates for EU accession, is at the very top of the priority list for the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) with regard to external relations.
In this issue:
- Exploring New Role Models for Societies in Europe
- The Western Balkans - Where is their Place?
- Debating the Liberal Professions in the age of digitalisation
- Fundamental Rights and the Rule of law - Trends in the EU from civil society perspective
- 4th European Justice Stakeholders' Forum Annual Plenary - Rights under threat?