“Balkan Dialogues” at Munich Security Conference

News | May 06, 2020

Responding to the successful launch of EWI’s inaugural Balkan Dialogues initiative in Belgrade, in March 2019, followed by another productive conference in Berlin, in December 2019, Ambassador Wolfgang Ischinger, chairman of the Munich Security Conference (MSC), invited EWI’s Balkans program to curate a special edition of its dialogue series at this year’s MSC conference, on February 14-16.

The “Balkan Dialogues Security Roundtable” attracted an unprecedented number of high-level participants, more than any other side-event during the three-day conference. Although envisioned originally as a closed session between Balkans representatives—along with several representatives from the EU and the U.S.—the event quickly attracted outside interest.

Key delegates in this lively, occasionally charged, discussion included the following: Carl Bildt; former prime minister of Sweden; Boyko Borisov, prime minister of Bulgaria; Miroslav Cerar, deputy prime minister of Slovenia; Milo Djukanovic, president of Montenegro; Albin Kurti, prime minister of Kosovo; Stevo Penderovski, president of North Macedonia; Edi Rama, prime minister of Albania; Marjan Sarec, president of Slovenia; Hashim Thaci, president of Kosovo; Aleksandar Vucic, president of Serbia; and Ekaterina Zaharieva, deputy prime minister of Bulgaria. Other featured participants include Josep Borrell, EU high representative for foreign policy; Andreas Michaelis, state secretary of Germany; Phillip Reeker, assistant secretary of state at the U.S. State Department; Thomas Greminger, secretary general of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE); as well as seven ministers of foreign affairs and defense, several ambassadors—including Wolfgang Ischinger and Frank Wisner—American political scientist Professor Francis Fukuyama and Stephen Heintz, president of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund.

The event took place during a “delicate moment” as two Balkan countries, North Macedonia and Albania, nervously awaited the EU Commission’s decision on a starting date for the accession process to the enter the EU. The positive messages delivered by French President Emanuel Macron at the conference, following EWI’s event, were perceived by many as a breakthrough moment for the entire region—Macron’s remarks encouraged a positive image of the EU, while inspiring much-needed political reforms throughout the Balkan region. These issues, at the top of the Balkan Dialogues agenda, demonstrate the necessity for continued efforts on two further, critical concerns for the region: reaching a Serbia-Kosovo agreement and preventing a re-emergence of conflict in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Additionally, the “Balkan Dialogues Security Roundtable” represented the first occasion for Serbian President Vucic and newly-elected Kosovar Prime Minister Kurti to meet publicly. As expected, tensions ran high as each leader presented contrasting views on the optimal path forward for Kosovo-Serbia dialogue.

Given the visibility and reputation of the MSC conference and the level of interest for the Balkan Dialogues event, this session marked an important milestone for EWI’s ongoing efforts in the Balkans.