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Stronger together: a common European future for the EU and the Balkans

European Democrats held a two-day conference in Sofia on ” Balkans: Europe’s Future”. The conference, moderated by Frederic Petit, focused on the Balkans building on the democratic model in Europe, especially given the complex situation of the war in Ukraine. Amongst the participants: representatives from Romania, Croatia, Kosovo, Albania, North Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, Greece, Moldova, Italy, France and Bulgaria.

The conference was opened by Sandro Gozi, Secretary General of the EDP and Kiril Petkov, former Bulgarian Prime Minister and current co-leader of We Continue the Change – PP. Sandro Gozi first outlined the political context of the meeting, reminding participants that the destiny of the Balkans and Europe were intertwined. He stated “At this forum we will not talk about the Balkans and Europe because we are at the centre of Europe and I believe that very soon the EU will be extended to the whole region”. He explained that the forum was an attempt to help strengthen democracy and stressed that democracy promotion was at the core of the political project that democrats have always defended. Balkan countries who are already Member States of the European Union hold a particular responsibility regarding enlargement and setting the precedent for other countries towards future accession.

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He emphasised that fighting for democracy in the EU and around the world meant defending democratic values and eradicating autocracy by building on diversity. For Sandro Gozi, defending democracy also means fighting corruption, fighting for fundamental rights and for the right of every person to determine their own destiny.

Sandro Gozi then discussed the EU’s influence on the international scene. He stressed that there was a strong political competition for influence in the Balkans between the EU on the one hand, and Russia, China and Turkey on the other. Sandro Gozi underlined the need for the EU to win this competition together with Balkan countries. He stated that the issue of reforms in the enlargement process and the reunification of Europe as a community also required a clear commitment to reforms from Balkan countries. He commented: ‘we are in a new century, a new era, and we need the emergence of a new Europe, a new policy on defence, migration, education, environment, etc’.

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He then regretted that some countries still experience fundamental rights violations and struggle to enforce European values. He added ‘if such rights and values are not respected, we will disintegrate as a Union’, emphasising that respecting the values of democracy meant being active on all front as Europeans. Upholding democratic values and understanding the role of democracy is a major part of the solution to ongoing problems in the Balkans. He highlighted that the EDP was perhaps the only political party that puts democratic values at the forefront of the integration process.

Frédéric Petit, French MP representing French residents overseas and Deputy Secretary General of the EDP, said that he felt strongly committed to the Balkan region, which he sees as the future of democracy in Europe and as the future of the European Union. According to Petit, the future of this region, not its past, should be the priority. He explained that the Balkans’ situation was similar to the one France and Germany were confronted with after the Second World War. Back then, the two countries successfully managed to base their relationship on common values in order to avoid another conflict. ‘When we talk about a 2050 vision for the Balkans, we are talking about ALL 11 countries, not just the 6 that are not yet part of the Union,’ Petit explained. According to him, all these countries have common issues to address with only minor differences and are at different stages in the accession process. He stated: ‘Democracy in the Balkans is very important. Together we can do more and the EDP wants to take up this challenge of democracy promotion in the European Union’. He added that in this process, institutions needed to both be brought closer to citizens and to rely more on civically engaged networks.

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