In 2019, the Forum for Strategic Studies (FORST) has launched a large annual conference project called Strategic Streams with the intention of discussing the most important strategic event that affects Europe, the Balkans and the world in a given year, with the intention of gathering distinguished experts, diplomats, decision makers, professors, scientists and high-ranking strategists from the country, the region and the world, who would exchange their opinions, insights and ideas at the Strategic Streams conference, once (or more) times a year, about future strategic trends in the 21st century. So far, the conference has been held in 2019, 2020 and 2021.
Strategic Streams 2021.
In 2021, the conference was held on June 30 at the Metropol Hotel in Belgrade under the title Strategic Streams 2021: European Union and the Balkans in the post-Merkel Era. At the conference, high-ranking guests from the European Union, Serbia and the region discussed the consequences of Angela Merkel’s departure from the political scene in Germany and Europe, and how her retirement will affect strategic trends in Europe and especially the Western Balkans accession process. are outside the EU) to the European Union. Speakers at the conference live and via video platform were high-ranking officials, analysts and researchers from the European Union, as well as directors and analysts of some of the most influential think tanks in the European Union.
The guests and companions of the conference were members of the diplomatic core in Serbia, as well as representatives of the cultural, academic and public life of Serbia, who were able to participate in the discussion through questions to the speakers. The conference was covered by media representatives from the country and the region.
At the beginning of the conference, the participants were addressed by Dr. Neven Cvetićanin, President of the Forum for Strategic Studies (FORST) and Dr. Max Brändle, Director of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation (FES) for Serbia and Montenegro, who greeted the guests and wished them success. the first panel of the conference began.
At the beginning of the first panel of the conference, Michael Roth, State Secretary of the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs for Europe, addressed the audience via a video platform, emphasizing that there is a long continuity of engagement between the European Union and Germany for the Western Balkans.
Secretary of State Roth explained that Germany is not the only member of the European Union that provides support for enlargement to the Western Balkans, but that it is a matter of the common position of all members. For this reason, there is a financial commitment to the region, as well as complementary initiatives such as the Berlin Process.
“The Western Balkans is an important part of Europe. Therefore, the successful integration of the region is necessary for the realization of the strategic interests of the EU. The EU’s strategic goals in the region remain unchanged, “Roth said, adding that further delays in enlargement should be avoided in order to achieve EU credibility.
After him, Zorka Kordić, the chief negotiator of the Government of Montenegro with the EU, also addressed the audience via video platform, following the words of Secretary of State Rota on the European future of the Western Balkans and emphasizing that although the accession process of Montenegro and other candidate countries year, there is no room for pessimism.
As she explained in the strategic goal of stability of the whole of Europe, which survives despite the changes within the Union, Montenegro participates with its commitment in foreign policy that does not change, and by sharing the vision of the European future with the EU and wants to be an example to other countries in the region.
“Montenegro wants to be an example by saying that our unique vision of the European future is a guarantor of stability for the entire European continent.” What is important is the clear geopolitical orientation of Montenegro. “We share that and harmonize with the Common Foreign and Security Policy of the EU, among other things, as a full member of NATO,” she said.
Kordic added that, in order to prove its commitment, the Government of Montenegro focused first on the area of the rule of law.
“In order to prove our geopolitical commitment, we are focused on achieving tangible results in the area of the rule of law, of course primarily to improve the quality of life of our citizens, but also because it is a concrete indicator of that geopolitical commitment,” she explained. .
Then, Kalinka Gaber, State Secretary for European Affairs in the Government of Northern Macedonia, addressed the guests of the conference, explaining that the path to the European Union is not easy.
She stated that, although it can often be heard from the European Union that when the country meets all expectations and criteria for the start of negotiations, the opening of negotiations is only a technical moment that will follow soon, that is not the end. In her opinion, issues that are raised by members that have nothing to do with the EU process and values often stand in the way of accession.
“That is why it is difficult to find a way between the technical and political part of the accession process, and as a result it is difficult to maintain motivation and enthusiasm among citizens,” she said, adding that EU membership, Dr. Neven Cvetićanin, President of the Forum for Strategic Studies, addressed the audience, explaining that today geopolitics has the greatest impact on developments in international relations. He added that the Western Balkans, although it often looks different, is not in the primary focus of either Europe or other great powers, such as the United States, China and Russia.
He explained that the current priority of the European Union is to position itself in relation to major geopolitical powers such as the United States, Russia and China, and that in that regard it shares strategic doubts with Serbia.
“Now Europe will come closer to the need to balance its foreign policy in relation to geopolitical superpowers, which we have already experienced, and in that sense I see the possible convergence of our interests and those of the EU,” he explained.
Dr. Cvetićanin added that Serbia should adhere to universal values in its foreign policy and that it should present its national interests as part of those universal values. According to Dr. Cvetićanin, the essence of Serbia’s foreign policy should be to recognize its national interests as part of universal values, because in that way the state of Serbia can increase its reputation, position and strength in foreign relations.
After Dr. Cvetićanin, President of FORST, Jean-Marie Bockel, former Minister in the Government of France, addressed the audience via a video platform, emphasizing that in the field of foreign and security policy, the EU should be stronger and more determined. . In its actions, it should not rely exclusively on American allies, with whom it has good relations again since the arrival of the new Biden administration, because their focus is no longer Europe, but should rely on its own strategic autonomy.
He explained that due to various events in the Western Balkans, a certain geopolitical gap has emerged in the region, and that the European Union should act adequately to fill that geopolitical gap.
“Today, it is necessary to discuss more about the deepening of the EU, ie reforms in its depth, but at the same time we must not block the enlargement process. “This is important because otherwise the geopolitical gap in the Balkans will be filled by the actions of third actors who will take their place in the region, while support among the citizens of the region for joining the EU will continue to decline,” he concluded.
After a short break, the second panel of the conference began, which discussed the biggest challenges for Europe and the region in the time “after Angela Merkel”.
At the beginning of the second panel of the conference, H.E. Damjan Bergant, Slovenia’s ambassador to Serbia, as the EU presidency country that will preside over the EU during the transition of the EU to the period “after” Merkel. He spoke about the priorities of the Slovenian EU presidency.
Speaking about the first priority, preparations for crises that could “catch” the European Union in the future, he pointed out that in addition to the pandemic crisis, and a new strain that threatens to disrupt the work of the EU, a new threat has appeared in the form of the so-called cyber crisis.
– At the beginning of the pandemic crisis, we were not well prepared and we had a problem with the procurement of medical equipment, problems in the work and distribution of vaccines, said Bergant, adding that there is a possibility that in the future there will be a crisis in cybercrime. major intrusions into bank systems, defense systems and the like.
“We hope to be more responsible and resilient,” Bergant continued.
He pointed out that Slovenia will actively work on climate and energy legislation during its presidency of the EU.
We need to reduce the greenhouse effect by 50 percent by 2030, which is one of our priorities, Bergmant continued.
– The development of artificial intelligence is a very interesting and serious topic, which can help in the fight against crises, and we will attribute great interest to that, Ambassador Bergant finally pointed out.
Dr. Steven Blockmans, Director of CEPS, one of the largest think tanks in the EU and head of the EU’s foreign policy unit, then addressed the audience.
Referring to the research from 2018 on the range of challenges and megatrends that “threaten” Europe, Blokmans said that in thinking about the future of Europe, “greater powers” are at play, which are very important and very much related to the Western Balkans.
– Geopolitics is driven by geoeconomic changes, because the center of “economic gravity” is moving from Europe to Asia. In the last few years, European institutions and member states have been concerned about the deepening of the productive gap with the United States, and the migration of production to Asia. With the advent of the pandemic, this became quite clear, retail chains and new production models, such as just in time and lean manufacturing, were tested, and there was a need to relocate to Europe, perhaps not exactly in the EU, but certainly somewhere in the EU neighborhood, where work is cheaper in order to “thicken” the strategic autonomy of Europe, said Blokmans.
Blockmans added that there are various types of ideas, plans, schemes and collaborative investments that have exploded in the last few months in the EU, and this has shifted the focus to the assertive EU, which is focused on competent sustainability.
He pointed out that the damage to the economy from the pandemic is the biggest problem, but that the crisis is accelerating growth and change, especially in the field of digital technologies and green politics, and that it is crucial to ensure the stability of the financial system.
– The EU’s strategic and reverse dependence on vulnerable ecosystems shows weaknesses in energy-intensive industries, health and advanced technologies, and concerns access to raw materials, pharmaceutical ingredients, hydrogen, semiconductors, and cloud technologies. The goal, ie the EU’s resilience to these risks, should be achieved through the diversification of supply chains, and the creation of international partnerships, Blockmans finally said.
After him, Dušan Reljić, director of the German Institute for International Relations and Security in Brussels, addressed the gathering, saying that the challenges have not changed significantly, and that the key problem remains inequality, which is manifested both within countries and at the European Union and relation to “nominally” foreign states.
Speaking about internal inequalities in the Western Balkans, he pointed out the fact that with the arrival of capitalism in the region, internal inequality increased, that on the economic ladder the lower 40% of the population lost income, while the very top, ie. 1 percent of the population at the top increased their wealth.
– There are studies that show that the attitude, individually, towards democracy is largely conditioned by the feeling of well-being in society and personal income. The challenge from before has become even bigger, says Reljić.
At the very end of the conference, Emmanuel Dupuy, director of the French Institute for European Perspectives and Security (IPSE) in Paris, addressed the audience, saying that Europe’s strategic autonomy cannot be discussed only within the EU, but must be discussed. involve a wider range of countries in this debate.
Dupuy added that if we want to overcome the current crisis caused by the pandemic, we must overcome 5 factors: human, digital, environmental, economic and geopolitical.
– As for the digital factor, he pointed out that the European Union did not take into account the need to be less dependent, and that, which is very dangerous, it exported several key strategic funds, if, for example, Europe’s industrial capacity, he said. .
As Dupuy pointed out, the new policy must emphasize relocalization, not only in terms of improving the workforce in Europe, but also take into account that near Europe, on the shores of the Mediterranean, there is a relevant and competent workforce, similar to that in Asia.
– The digital factor is also a huge opportunity for the economy, with greater digital capacities something similar to the regional economic partnership that exists in Asia can be created (Asean + 6 which is the largest trade agreement in the world), Dupuy continued, and concluded that the Western Balkans can to fill the geopolitical hole of Europe.