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.
The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) has strongly supported the enlargement of the European Union to the six Western Balkans countries provided they fulfil all the necessary criteria for membership. In the aftermath of the Council's non-decision to open accession negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia in October 2019, we have reacted swiftly by adopting, on 31 October, a Resolution expressing our profound disappointment by the lack of unanimity from the Member States. The EESC has since been committed to working closely and intensively with the civil society in the Western Balkans to support and reassure them that their place is in the European Union.
The EU-Montenegro Civil Society Joint Consultative Committee (JCC) held a meeting in Podgorica on June 7 to discuss the state of play in Montenegro's EU accession negotiations. The members of the JCC agreed on a joint declaration, which calls on the EU institutions to continue to be supportive of the EU enlargement policy after the European elections in May 2019 and on the Montenegrin authorities to produce tangible results in the areas of rule of law, media freedom, fight against organised crime and corruption.
Civil society representatives from both the EU and Turkey called on Turkish authorities to undertake major reforms in the fields of rule of law and human rights as a prerequisite to resume accession negotiations with the EU. This was one of the main conclusions of the 38th meeting of the EU-Turkey Joint Consultative Committee (JCC) held in Brussels on 8 and 9 April, which also agreed on the important role of the JCC as an open channel for exchanges at civil society level.
The importance of Social Dialogue, the role of employers' organisations, the economic situation in the Balkan countries, progress in the accession process and current political challenges: these were main topics of the discussions at the Balkan Employers' Round Table that took place in Ljubljana, Slovenia, on 22 March 2017. The event brought together representatives of employers' organisations from former Yugoslavia (Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro and the Former Yugoslavian Republic of Macedonia).
EESC criticises European Council decision to deny the opening of accession negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania
The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) is deeply disappointed about EU leaders' decision to further postpone opening accession negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania at the European Council of 17-18 October, due to the lack of unanimity between the Member States.