The Slovenian Paneuropean Movement and the Paneuropean Union of Bosnia and Herzegovina organised an international conference that took place between 25 and 27 May 2018 in Orašje, Bosnia and Herzegovina, under the title European Enlargement Process: Cross-Border Cooperation as an Instrument of European Integration. As the third conference of the JOCICEF project, the event aimed at discussing three key challenges facing Southeast Europe: the EU’s messages to the countries of Southeast Europe regarding their European perspective, the role and contribution of multiculturalism in Southeast Europe to multiculturalism in Europe, and cross-border cooperation as an instrument of European integration. The conference, which was attended by more than 80 participants from 10 countries, featured esteemed representatives of universities, research institutions and NGOs, as well as politicians and members of the diplomatic corps.

 

Participants were first addressed by Alain Terrenoire, the President of the International Paneuropean Union, who called for expanding the European Council to include representatives of candidates for EU membership. This would give a clear signal that they can really count on the European enlargement and integration process. He pointed out that European institutions should not see the states of Southeast Europe as just a black hole on the European map, but rather as equals to EU member states that should be invited to different EU meetings affecting their future. He added that cross-border cooperation used to be an instrument of European integration in the past, and should now play the same role for candidate states.

 

Haris Ćutahija, the acting President of the Paneuropean Union of Bosnia and Herzegovina, stressed that Bosnia and Herzegovina was undoubtedly part of Europe, and that a European perspective was the only right path. He urged the country’s politicians to continue on the successful track of reforms required for EU membership. As the oldest European organisation for European unification, Paneurope fully supports this path, he pointed out.

 

Tonino Picula, Member of the European Parliament from Croatia, started his address by expressing regret that Bosnia and Herzegovina had been unable for 20 years to find common solutions and answers to the issues it is facing (including Euro-Atlantic integration). He stressed that the European Council confirmed in Sofia in 2018 the EU’s commitment to uphold the European perspective of the Western Balkans. How serious the European Commission is about the enlargement process was also reflected in its President Jean-Claude Juncker directly asking French President Emmanuel Macron where he stood on EU enlargement when he did not touch on the subject in his address in the European Parliament. Macron replied that he was in favour of enlargement, but that the EU should first focus on the internal problems it is facing. This may seem unimportant, but Juncker’s question has great symbolic weight, showing support for enlargement that was not there when he started his term at the helm of the European Commission. Picula concluded by highlighting as problematic the fact that the European budget for the 2022–2027 does not envisage a section for enlargement.

 

Franjo Topić, the Honorary President of the Paneuropean Union of Bosnia and Herzegovina, pointed to the symbolism of this Paneuropean conference taking place in Orašje, which is right on the border with the EU. He called on the citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina to not give up and to stick to their optimism about the country’s European future. More importantly than just being an economic partner, for Bosnia and Herzegovina the EU is a pillar of peace, stability and progress. At the same time, he called for more dialogue and exchange of views between politicians and citizens on the future of European integration, since citizens have a more positive attitude towards the EU and its prospects for the future.

 

In the panels that followed the introductory addresses, the speakers focused on the European integration process and the reforms that Bosnia and Herzegovina must still implement, as well as examples of good practice of cross-border cooperation as a pre-enlargement instrument. Another important point that was discussed with the participants was the role of how the EU is perceived. As the speakers pointed out, the share of people in Bosnia and Herzegovina (as in other candidate states) who believe in a bright future of the EU is higher than in many EU member states. This is simply the result of a weaker presence of Euroscepticism, since they see the European integration process as the only path towards progress, stability and development. However, the speakers also highlighted the growing nationalist trends, which could substantially weaken the political landscape and the European perspective in the long run.

 

A photo gallery is available on the website of the Paneuropean Union of Bosnia and Herzegovina.