South Eastern Europe and the EU: Current Stage and Perspectives

Wed 2 Feb 2005

South Eastern Europe and the EU: Current Stage and Perspectives
Themes: European institutions, integration process of SEE into EU
Organisers: FES, Alfred Mozer Stichting, European Forum
Target group: Young and promising politicians
Venue: Brussels, Belgium and Strasbourg, France
Date: 13 – 19 November 2004

In 2004 FES and AMS organised a series of seminars to support young politicians in social democratic parties in the republics of former Yugoslavia. The aim was to introduce them to the various aspects of political leadership and the dynamics and structures of political parties through training sessions and exchanges with invited speakers. Last seminar’s topic, ‘National sovereignty and joining Europe’ met with much interest from the participants. In the evaluation it became clear that a follow-up on issues touched upon in this seminar was wanted. Therefore FES and AMS decided to organise a study trip to Brussels and Strasbourg for the Promising Politicians of 2003.

Visits were made to both Brussels and Strasbourg in order to give a complete picture of the functioning of the EU. During a time span of four days we met with representatives of the European Commission (Reinhard Priebe), NATO (Zsolt Rabai), the Council of the European Union (Thorbjörn Sohlström), the European Parliament (Armin Machmer), the European Court for Human Rights, International Institute for Democracy/Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (Enie Wesseldijk), Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (Günther Esters and Stefanie Ricken) and others.

The working visits and the direct contact with policy makers provided the participants with the following information:

  • General knowledge about the history of the EU and the functioning of different European institutions.
  • The current stage of the different countries of South East Europe when it comes to the integration process into the EU.
  • The EU is ready to welcome the countries of South East Europe as ‘members of the club’ and sends a strong message of support to these countries. Once criteria have been fulfilled, these countries can enter.
  • The EU is open to accession, but the responsibility lies wholly with the countries themselves. It is they who have to do the job. The EU is very strict in enforcing the Copenhagen criteria.
  • An impression of the plenary session of the EP and the role of PES in this.

This study visit to Brussels and Strasbourg was clearly very useful. Considering the wide range of European institutions that participants got acquainted with, the visit offered a rather complete picture of the EU and its institutions.

In the evaluation participants made clear that they appreciated the new information about the EU, the new contacts that they made, the clear message of support that they received from the EU as well as the acknowledgement of the work that has been done so far. Participants considered this to be useful in their future work.

However, this project could be improved in the future. With the help of the FES offices in Brussels and Strasbourg, a very interesting program was put together. They were also for a great part responsible for the logistical organization. This was extremely helpful. In the future it would be good if we could again make use of their ‘local knowledge’. In that case, however, there should be a clearer division of tasks. The local offices should either organize everything (except travel arrangements from the countries), or FES Belgrade/AMS should take a greater responsibility.

One of the most important aspects of this project should in my opinion be the acquaintance with the European Parliament. MEP’s are politicians that participants (promising politicians themselves) can best relate to, especially young MEP’s and/or MEP’s from the new member states. Because the meetings with MEP’s were to take place in Strasbourg, during the plenary session, it was already quite probable that MEP’s might have to prioritize other meetings. This turned out to be the case indeed. In the end, it was impossible to meet with one single MEP (also partly caused by the fact that we had to skip the morning session, due to logistical complications). Fortunately this was made up for by an interesting tour through the EP by Armin Machmer (advisor PES Group) and a visit to the plenary session.

In the future this can be avoided – as well as logistical complications – by limiting the study visit to Brussels. Besides, this will save time and money, will make the organization less complicated and will decrease the chance of logistical hazards.