The international conference delved into the issue of the EU’s Open Strategic Autonomy (OSA), the idea that the European Union should be able to act autonomously in a number of strategic policy areas, such as energy, health, or digital technologies.
The event also provided a platform to exchange views on how the EU's open strategic autonomy might impact the future of the Western Balkans and the EU enlargement.
The dialogue was attended by high-level policymakers from the host country, North Macedonia, including the Vice Prime Minister for European Affairs Bojan Marichikj and the State Secretary at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Filip Tosevski, as well as from all other Western Balkan countries.
In his keynote address, Mr Bojan Marichikj noted:
“2030 as a date for a European perspective of the region should be our motive and driving force for changes, an opportunity we should take advantage of. The Thessaloniki promise of the European perspective should be delivered through a strategic plan, but in the meantime, several things can be done, in addition to the negotiation process.”
During the conference, participants identified two concrete policy recommendations that can help shape future key EU policies.
Recommendation 1: Systematic Mapping of Potential Synergies
Participants recommended a mapping exercise of potential synergies between the Western Balkans and the EU's Open Strategic Autonomy (OSA). This exercise would identify areas where the Western Balkans can contribute to the EU's OSA, such as high-skilled ICT labour and critical raw materials, leveraging existing mapping exercises.
The EU and the Western Balkan countries could consider signing strategic partnerships under the Action Plan on Critical Raw Materials. These partnerships could complement existing agreements, foster innovation, and research, and create quality local jobs. The OSA could serve as a gateway for the Western Balkans' substantive integration into the EU, aligned with the revised enlargement methodology.
Recommendation 2: Capacity-Building for Enhanced Strategic Cooperation
The second recommendation regards capacity-building to prepare (potential) candidate countries for the obligations of EU membership. Investing in human capital through training, particularly in sectors relevant to absorbing funds from the Growth Plan for the Western Balkans, is crucial. This investment in managing EU funds is essential for bridging the development gap between the EU Member States and the Western Balkans.
The European University Institute will continue to support this discussion by organising additional high-level policy dialogues in the region. The next dialogue will focus on building upon the recommendations and providing a platform for stakeholder exchange on current topics.
The Ohrid dialogue was organised with the support of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of Italy in the context of a broader capacity-building project for Western Balkan diplomats. Through this project, more than 50 young diplomats of the region were trained in Florence on diplomatic skills and EU policymaking.
The event marked the first EUI event in the region and saw the attendance of the EUI Secretary General, Marco del Panta, STG fellows Maria Luisa Andrisani and Jakov Bojovic, and Professor Jelena Džankić.
The Ambassador of Italy to the Republic of North Macedonia Andrea Silvestri thanked the EUI for organising the event in the historic city of Ohrid - a place where traditionally many cultures come together. Ambassador Silvestri also emphasised that Italy wants the Western Balkans to be part of the European family.
Read more about the outcomes of the conference here.