Background

The Berlin Process is a diplomatic initiative linked to the future enlargement of the European Union to include the Western Balkans. It started with the 2014 Conference of Western Balkan Six, which took place in Berlin on 28 August 2014 on the initiative of German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Symbolically, the idea for this conference came from the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the beginning of World War I.  There was a drive to support economic growth and regional cooperation of the Western Balkans as a step forward towards full European Union membership.

In the following years, high-level meetings between the Western Balkan Six (Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo*, North Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia) and several EU Member States were held in Vienna (2015), Paris (2016), followed by Trieste (2017), London (2018), Poznan (2019).

The forthcoming Summit will take place in Sofia.

Throughout the years the Berlin Process has focused on key aspects for regional cooperation, namely: increasing prosperity via sustainable economic growth, fostering a more positive investment climate, infrastructure and energy, with interconnectivity with investment in infrastructure being seen as a means for creating jobs, business opportunities and other social and cultural benefits. Creating high-level political connections, reconciling people by stimulating youth exchanges and education projects, and resolving outstanding bilateral disputes, all while ensuring civil society participation in the whole process, are other significant aspects of this initiative.

During this process, the idea of establishing a Western Balkans Regional Economic Area emerged, an area where goods, services, investments and skilled workers would move without obstacles, creating a market of almost 20 million consumers that would be available and attractive to potential investors.

At the 2017 Trieste Summit, the Western Balkans Six Prime Ministers adopted the Multi-annual Action Plan for a regional economic area in the WB (MAP REA), created with the support of the European Commission. MAP REA includes specific measures classified in four pillars: trade, investment, mobility and digital integration. The 2019 Summit in Poznan noticed the progress in implementing MAP REA culminated with signature of Regional Roaming Agreement on 4th of April 2019.

The Berlin process has so far enjoyed the support of both the Western Balkan Region and the EU alike, being instrumental in keeping the question of enlargement towards the Western Balkans on the EU agenda. A mayor achievement of the Berlin Process is that it has brought a positive momentum for regional cooperation, in particular by boosting the interest of WB6 and EU stakeholders, bringing forth a number of projects which are expected to have a significant economic and social impact.

Among the perceived Berlin Process achievements we can highlight the regionally coordinated and agreed-upon Connectivity Agenda, the establishment of the Regional Youth Cooperation Office (RYCO) seated in Tirana, as well as the launch of the Western Balkan Six Chamber Investment Forum (WB6 CIF) headquartered in Trieste.

Just like the previous EU-WB, the Sofia Summit, the event will bring together leaders of EU members states and Western Balkan countries, and is expected to provide a boost for the EU enlargement process in the Western Balkans.

*This designation is without prejudice to positions on status, and is in line with United Nations Security Council Resolution 1244/1999 and the International Court of Justice Opinion on the Kosovo declaration of independence