Roundtable 2

“We in the acceding countries, regardless which social sector we belong to, look at the EU as a buffet; we take what we like and leave what we don’t like- which is the reforms and responsibilities”. (Daliborka Uljarevic)

The second and final roundtable organised by the CDRSEE in cooperation with DG NEAR (European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations) on 'Civil society in the Western Balkans and the path to the EU: Strengthening social inclusion for a more secure, economically stable and democratic region’ was an opportunity to inform the audience of Thessaloniki about the role of Civil Society in the Western Balkans and the pre-accession progress of these countries.

With three speakers from Albania, Montenegro and Greece it was interesting to examine the different perspectives and ’invite’ the audience to participate in an open dialogue about  the future of  enlargement both from the side of the EU and the acceding countries.   

Ms Daliborka Uljarevic, Executive Director of the Centre for Civic Education, Montenegro stated that there is a very optimistic and positive view towards the EU and accession which have been promoted by politicians and point to the benefits and economic flourishing that would come with EU accession.  However, it has been left to civil society to embark on public dialogue about issues such as political reform, equal treatment of minorities, responsible and independent media etc in a substantive manner, as she considers that governments have been lacking in this area. She added that although civil society can discuss, suggest and advocate, it cannot make administrative changes in the government or procedures of state and that is where the EU has to work with governments as well as civil society.

Mr Vasilis Tsartsanis, from the perspective of an activist and photographer who has been closely following the flows of migrants and refugees through Greece over  the past few years the , stated that we should all respect the refugees first of all as human beings. Then these people should be integrated in the Greek society so that they can contribute to the local economy. This is not doable when they are all kept in the camps and even stated that the camps are ‘black holes’ for money. He added that a better cooperation between the countries, whether they are member states or not, would assist with a faster integration of the refugees, with dignity and respect.

Mr Bensasson, Municipal Councillor of Thessaloniki, as the moderator of the discussion, highlighted the fact that the issue of economic input is vital in persuading communities to accept the integration of refugees. He further commented on the fact that all of the world’s major economies have been built on migrant labour.

The last speaker of the event, Mr Arjan Dyrmishi, as the Head of the Centre for European & Security Affairs, Institute for Democracy and Mediation,  Albania talked on ‘The role and challenges of civil society organisations towards social integration as a means to countering violent extremism’. He stated that social integration requires economic inclusion, and this means long-term employment for a majority of the population.   The governments need to set programmes and institutions in place to achieve social integration and work within the education system to promote inclusion. Echoing Ms Daliborka, he pointed out that it is not civil society that can do this. He emphasised  the role of education in  creating a more media-literate and social-media-literate population; an essential factor in   being able to recognise that the extremists are manipulating the media and that this is not the only point of view or set of facts.

This  event, which was primarily focused on  enlargement and how it could help in the modern divided world, taught all the invitees that education functions as a bridge to overcome inequalities but it also helps the stakeholders and countries in general build a stable ’foundation’ so that they can work together in the future.