EU accession and peacebuilding

Extracts from a report on a recent seminar, entitled ‘EU accession and peacebuilding’, organized by the European Peacebuilding Liaison Office (EPLO), which took place in Belgrade on 28-29th September 2010.


The aim of the seminar was “to discuss civil society’s expectations and concerns regarding the EU accession process’ impact on peacebuilding and conflict prevention in the Western Balkans, to provide participants with an overview of the relation between conflict and the EU Accession process, to illustrate examples of advocacy on EU accession and peacebuilding and to develop suggestions on how the EU accession process could function as a catalyst for conflict prevention and peacebuilding.” From EPLO’s side, the aim is to foster civil society cooperation across and between regions in the form of joint advocacy.

Lessons learned from previous accession rounds

From previous accession rounds, it is clear that civil society should:

  • Focus on implementation and not solely adoption of policies;
  • Avoid broad and general recommendations;
  • Civil society organizations (CSOs)  should analyse the processes at EU level and adapt the presentation of our work to the target audience: e.g. Commission is interested in technical work; MS are interested in political considerations with strong national interest bias;
  • When advocating on EU accession, CSOs should refer to the double standards: condition for candidate countries are higher than the conditions applied in the EU;
  • Separate policy and funding: EPLO is working on ensuring that there is adequate funding available for peacebuilding work within EU funding for the region.

Session One – EU accession and conflict: problem analysis

The objective of the first session was to provide participants with an overview of the relation between conflict and the EU accession process in order to inform the discussions held throughout the day. The session was chaired by Ms Catherine Woollard and included contributions by Ms Jelena Milić (Executive Director of the Centre for Euro-Atlantic Studies CEAS) and Mr. Christian Pfeifer (ForumZFD):

The speakers raised the following points (which are not necessarily the views of EPLO):

  • It is important that civil society in the Western Balkans remains focused on the issue of peacebuilding and EU accession, since recently a lot of attention has been directed towards ‘new’ topics such as economic considerations.
  • It is useful to compare the EU enlargement of Central Eastern European (CEE) countries and Western Balkan countries:
    • CEE did not have a direct recent experience of conflict which made regional cooperation less problematic;
    • CEE countries saw NATO as safeguard of their independence and statehood;
    • NATO and EU worked together: NATO overseeing SSR and EU assessing progress regarding Copenhagen criteria;
  • Cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia (ICTY) which is a requirement of the Stabilisation and Association Process (SAP) is also different from the previous accession round. In Serbia, cooperation with the ICTY overlaps with the personnel and institutional needed changes inside the security sector.
  • In the previous EU enlargement, the EU successfully made use of its soft power and was able to support a successful democratic transition. Politicians in this region mostly fail to realise the support the EU accession process can provide for democratisation.
  • The EU CSDP missions and EU accession process are contributing to peacebuilding and development. However, the lack of consistency in EU and MS policies is problematic and sends the wrong signals to the region.
  • All EU efforts to support transitional justice and the work of the ICTY have contributed greatly to awareness and provision of facts. It is therefore important to focus on transitional justice and increase the competition for democratic institutions within the region. The RECOM initiative should be supported by civil society, despite the fact that donors tend to allocate resources away from peacebuilding issues.
  • The European Commission does not have a mandate to look into the defense sector, which poses an obstacle especially regarding Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) and Serbia. Another problem is that the EU does not have the power to prescribe how countries should be organised internally.
  • The current financial climate and involvement in Afghanistan should not lower the standards for NATO and EU accession. The EU should be more consistent and clear in its support to the countries of the region in order to overcome blockages on the road to the EU. A possible next step for the EU should be to send the questionnaires to Western Balkan states to allow for an evaluation of the state of affairs.

During the question and answer session, the participants raised the following points:

  • EU accession policy does not cover enough of the drivers of conflict that were identified in the questionnaire;
  • The role of the EU delegations is changing with the Lisbon Treaty and the establishment of the European External Action Service (EEAS) to become more political;
  • CSOs should consider how to cooperate with governments and become more proactive in approaching reformers in governmental institutions;
  • Twinning process between Western Europe and CEE countries supported the societal change in CEE countries by assisting CSOs in holding their governments to account;
  • Not all peacebuilding that has to be done in the Western Balkans can be accommodated within the EU accession process;
  • Initiative from CSOs which signed a declaration in support of visa liberalisation for citizens from BiH and Albania sends a strong signal that civil society in the Western Balkans is dedicated to EU accession of the whole region;
  • There should be more cooperation between CSOs from Western Balkans and the EU so that advocacy messages are channeled to policy makers at EU level;
  • When approached, EU delegations are often interested to receive input from civil society;
  • Cooperation with governmental bodies is easy on some issues such as education but can be rather difficult on others which are perceived as harder issues, such as security sector;
  • The quality and level of human rights protection will decrease after EU accession. In the case of Croatia, civil society is currently considering the challenges it will face when joining the EU. In this respect, the double standards between current EU MS and candidate countries should be highlighted;
  • What should the approach of civil society be to the dilemma related to the fact that decisions are political and processes are technical?
  • Civil society should not solely focus on what criteria that have to be fulfilled to join the EU but should concentrate on what changes they would like to see;
  • Exclusion of Kosovo from the visa liberalisation process is contributing to demoralising people in Kosovo and causing tensions. The upcoming dialogue is a promising development which could address the current obstacles to establishing ‘normal’ relations between Serbia and Kosovo;
  • Within Serbia, a genuine decentralisation process and political participation at the local level is needed;
  • While civil society is a driver of social change, its potential is limited by the unwillingness of politicians in the Western Balkans to engage with them.

Session Two – Developing civil society recommendations on peacebuilding in EU Accession

The objective of the second session was to share experiences of civil society advocacy on EU accession policy and to develop civil society recommendations on peacebuilding and the EU accession. The session was chaired by Ms Catherine Woollard and included contributions by Ms Maja Stajčić and Ms Hanna Sällström (both Kvinna till Kvinna), Mr. Filip Pavlović (Fractal), and Mr. Astrit Istrefi (Saferworld).

The speakers raised the following points (which are not necessarily the views of EPLO):

  • In the Western Balkans, women’s organisations were the first to do cross-community peacebuilding. However, they are absent from current official political debates. Women are affected differently by threats to human security, which can be seen as the increased rate of sexual violence and human trafficking in situations of conflict. Inclusion of women in peacebuilding is crucial for sustainability, efficiency and democracy within a country, which is why their participation in peace processes should be supported. EPLO coordinated the putting together of ten civil society suggestions for the implementation of UNSCR 1325 which approximately 80 organisations have signed, which provides practical recommendations and is still open for further signatures from organisations.
  • The European Commission started the oral and written consultation with CSOs on the Progress Reports to better understand the gap between adoption and implementation of legislation. In both 2009 and 2010, Kvinna till Kvinna submitted written input to the Progress Report and participated in the consultation meetings in Brussels. The objectives of this activity were to:
    • ensure that the gender perspective is addressed adequately in the Progress Reports and not reduced only to issues of violence against women;
    • influence governments in the Western Balkans via the EU;
    • increase the knowledge on EU accession policy of Kvinna till Kvinna and their partner organisations and;
    • strengthen the partnership between Kvinna till Kvinna and their partner organisations.
  • Civil society contribution to the Progress Reports led to a difference in the wording of the Reports, especially regarding the important difference between adoption and implementation of legislation. Lessons learned from contributing to the two consecutive rounds were:
    • comments should be limited to the policy area an organisation has expertise in and should be focused on the three most important issues;
    • after sending in the written submission to the EU Commission in Brussels, it is important to meet with the EU officials in the regional EU delegation to ensure that they have the same information and
    • information has to be presented in a way that the officials can make use of it.
  • During the oral consultation, it is important to be concise and focus on the three most important issues. The responsibility of presenting should also be shared between representatives of local and international organisations. To avoid repetition and strengthen each others points, it is helpful to be aware of the other organisations present at the oral consultation. Benefits from the contribution of the Kvinna till Kvinna:
    • improvement of gender equality perspective in the Progress Report;more accurate information in the Progress Report;
    • both Kvinna till Kvinna and their partner organisations build their capacity regarding relations to the EU institutions and increased their knowledge about the accession process;
    • establishment of regular contact with EU officials.
  • The EU has considerable expertise in cross-border cooperation which can be used for the Western Balkans. One of the challenges for cross-border cooperation in the Western Balkans is the lack of decentralisation. Implications of multi-level governance at EU level for advocacy:
    • challenge to use the peaks of political interest to promote a more long-term political strategy such as cross-border cooperation;
    • issues that are not included in a specific political mechanism i.e. Progress Report has to be advocated for differently;
    • important to meet and consult with different EU institutions as well as civil society and think tanks.
  • It is important that outreach for CSDP missions is not limited to media communication, but based on consultation with civil society and local constituencies on a broader level. Saferworld joined the work of the Human Rights Review Panel and organised public debates in various municipalities. In April 2010, Saferworld and EPLO organised a civil society seminar on EULEX and civil society participation in Pristina. Evaluation of engagement with EULEX:
    • some progress has been made in consulting with civil society organisations, unfortunately not much in regard to local communities;
    • transparency and accountability still needs to be increased to avoid confusion about the actual mandate and role of EULEX.
  • EPLO is currently considering the development of a scheme of alternative reports for CSDP mission which would bring in civil society analysis of the countries in which the CSDP mission is deployed and would monitor the impact and effectiveness of CSDP missions.

During the question and answer session, the participants raised the following points:

  • It is important that projects are informed by the realities of the people living in the respective communities and communicate back to them at the same time;
  • What are other policy processes and advocacy targets CSOs are involved in?
  • The need for civil society organisations to be proactive and provide EU Delegations with concrete recommendations as well as the importance of personal relationships with EU officials was stressed;
  • The RECOM initiative is a good example of a regional civil society initiative that succeeded in attaining financial (though no political) support from EU institutions;
    • It should be noted, however, that Pierre Mirel, Director of Relations with Western Balkans at DG Enlargement expressed the European Commission’s political support for RECOM in his speech at the fifth regional forum on transitional justice in Budva in May 2009. Similarly, the Subcommittee on Human Rights of the European Parliament hosted an exchange of views with representatives of the RECOM initiative in September 2010.
  • CSOs should not only focus on how they can benefit from or use the EU accession process but think about how the EU can benefit from their experience and knowledge in conflict-affected countries;
  • Civil society should be wary of being instrumentalised by EU and other institutions to achieve their mandate and should for instance question the current push for political support for RECOM which comes too soon;
  • Cross-border advocacy is not only an activity but a process itself, building long-term relations with sharing of risks and benefits;
  • Civil society monitoring of the CSDP missions is vital and much needed;
  • Civil society should constantly bear in mind the impact of their work and be conflict sensitive themselves; the challenge is to bring the ideas, needs and empirical evidence from the community level to policy makers;
  • The idea of Visegrád-Plus is politically a very sensitive topic in Kosovo.
  • It was mentioned that the idea behind it is to answer certain political challenges through development measures.

Working Group Sessions

The participants divided into three working groups in order to consider the following questions:

  • What are the mechanisms and entry points for advocacy on peacebuilding at national and EU level?
  • What are the advocacy objectives and messages?
  • What are the resources available and needed and what activities can be carried out?

1) Transitional justice, reconciliation and RECOM

Advocacy objectives:

  • Transitional justice itself as a long-term objective: healing and establishment of justice and truth;
  • Increase the EU’s conflict sensitivity and consideration for issues related to transitional justice in for instance programming;
  • Develop a holistic understanding of transitional justice, e.g. the debate should not be limited to ICTY;
  • Ensure that the gender dimension receives adequate attention in transitional justice processes.

Entry points:

  • End of ICTY mandate: how can knowledge be transferred?
  • Establishment of the EEAS: new Heads of Delegation
  • Progress Reports (written input and oral consultation)
  • Approach Member States that are interested in issues of transitional justice

Advocacy messages:

  • Need to monitor the performance of national courts in relation to war crimes.
  • Present civil society suggestions on how to implement transitional justice e.g. active prosecution of perpetrators of rape, promote work with war veterans support further fact finding.
  • Present facts that show that the accession of Western Balkan countries is different from CEE enlargement (e.g. Croatia will join the EU with around 90.000 landmines).

Participants raised the following issues in response to the working group’s presentation:

  • Local, national and regional RECOM consultations discusses many of the issues raised and some of them are already addressed (e.g. ICTY exit strategy).
  • Should CSOs advocate against steps towards EU accession if they see criteria for transitional justice threatened?

2) Cross-border activities and regional coordination

Entry points:

  • Important to start on the local level and seek tangible effects of cooperation.
  • Key actors: NGO sector, local governments and institutions, respective ministries, EU MS Embassies and donors (especially those who have a regional strategy).


  • Develop joint strategies and programmes with different organisations that have offices over the region or with partner organisations;
  • In joint strategies, gender should be a cross-cutting issue and the role of women in peace processes should be taken into account.

Advocacy objectives and messages:

  • Both objectives and messages should be informed by experience and analysis from the community level, especially regarding border populations;
  • Working on a regional level can help to differentiate between national trends and structural causes.

Activities and resources:

  • Financial resources are lacking;
  • Expertise and experience is available and should be coordinated.


  • Bringing together CSOs from the region in meetings similar to this seminar;
  • Meetings with EU officials could be conducted jointly to highlight regional aspect;
  • Use the opportunity of Progress Reports to influence decision makers in Brussels.

Participants raised the following issues in response to the working group’s presentation:

  • The EU welcomes concrete suggestions for regional cooperation;
  • In the long-term, regional cooperation should have concrete results and should not be an end in itself;
  • Economic cooperation is an important part of regional cooperation, which is often forgotten by peacebuilders;
  • Some EU supported mechanisms Crossborder Institution Building (CBIB) is an EU Commission funded project based in Belgrade provides capacity building for local authorities, institutions, NGOs, etc;
  • It is not necessary to establish new structures for cooperation but to engage in each other’s work and to be informed about regional initiatives;
  • November: Launch of a call for proposals for regional cross-cultural activities, which will provide the opportunity to put together a regional project;
  • Regional Development Agencies in the Western Balkans are responsible to establish official regional cooperation between themselves;
  • The last two IPA call for proposals (one on interethnic dialogue and one on intercultural dialogue) had a regional dimensions;
  • There are many thematic networks in the region that connect stakeholders, e.g. cities, that could serve as a good source of knowledge and experience;
  • From EPLO’s side, cross-border cooperation would mean bringing civil society analysis to policy makers at EU level, using the Civil Society Dialogue Network that EPLO manages.

3) Civil society input into the Kosovo-Serbia dialogue

Formulation of eight basic principles that should be taken into account:

  • Remove obstacles for citizens that would like to cooperate and meet each other;
  • The purpose of the dialogue should not be EU accession but a belief that dialogue itself is necessary;
  • Negotiations should include opportunities to consult the public;
  • A consultative process should involve people affected by the issues that are discussed;
  • Topics of negotiations should focus on the improvements of citizens’ lives;
  • Both the negotiation process and the outcome should contribute to peacebuilding;
  • Existing dialogue processes between Kosovo and Serbia citizens should not be harmed by the official dialogue;
  • Negotiators should take ownership and responsibility for the (intermediary) outcomes of the dialogue process.

Participants raised the following issues in response to the working group’s presentation:

  • It would be good to have civil society from all over the Western Balkans and the EU on board;
  • One could be even more ambitious and involve civil society more formally in the negotiations, making the link between track 1, 2 and 3 negotiations;
  • It is important for civil society not to be consumed by the official dialogue but to take the ongoing crossborder co-operation they are involved in as a point of departure to feed into the process;
  • Within the dialogue, women’s participation in the peace process should be explicitly spelled out. EPLO is hosting a meeting on the implementation of UNSCR 1325 and in particular women’s participation in peace processes in the framework of the Civil Society Dialogue Network on 23 November in Brussels.
  • To what extent is civil society engagement in the dialogue possible? Civil society should not become politicised in the process. There are risks attached to the involvement in the process and often the pressure comes from within the own society and CSOs should evaluate and mitigate those risks.
  • If CSOs agree on guiding principles that would lead the dialogue, a considerable amount of risks are mitigated.

First Panel – EU Accession and conflict in the Western Balkans

The session was chaired by Ms Tanja Popović (Nansen Dialogue Centre Belgrade) and included contributions by Mr. Filip Pavlović (Fractal), Ms Catherine Woollard (EPLO), Mr. Thomas Gnocchi (EU Delegation Serbia) and Mr. Srdjan Gligorijević (British Embassy).

The speakers raised the following issues (which are not necessarily EPLO’s views):

  • Civil society can support and add to the EU accession process;
  • The EU, a peace project itself, should better adjust to the post-conflict situation in the Western Balkans and increase its efforts to export its model of conflict prevention;
  • Civil society should also be involved in what are perceived as ‘harder’ issues, such as institution building, SSR or anti-corruption;
  • EU accession might exacerbate conflict if, for instance (i) issues of SSR are not addressed adequately, (ii) territorial disputes remain unresolved, or (iii) economic inequality increases through privatization and other reforms;
  • CSDP missions have to reinforce EU accession policies instead of undermining them;
  • The EU has a variety of tools to address conflict prevention in the EU accession process, such as the Stabilisation and Association Process and the Progress Reports;
  • Serbia has made considerable progress since the SAA was signed in 2007 which has been rewarded by the visa liberalisation in 2010;
  • The UN Resolution brought a new dynamic to the situation, the EU itself will hold to the ICTY conditionality;
  • EU accession policy itself is a peacebuilding tool and informed by the EU’s identity as a security community;
  • The acceptance of EU norms will be more transformative than EU accession;
  • Although the Western Balkans have reached a negative peace, a positive peace still has to be reached.

Participants raised the following issues in response to the panel’s presentations:

  • The EU accession process should not be limited to technical issues;
  • Particularly smaller CSOs have difficulties in attaining funding from EU Delegations;
  • Guidelines for human rights defenders should be adapted to the local context;
  • Is institutional change a prerequisite or a result of adoption of certain norms?
  • Talking about adoption of EU norms can be problematic due to the feeling of cultural superiority within the EU and the current rise of xenophobia and racism inside the EU, including racism towards people in the Western Balkans.

Second Panel: Civil Society Engagement in the EU Accession Process

The second panel was chaired by Ms Catherine Woollard (EPLO) and included presentations by Mr. Srdjan Majstorović (Serbian Office for European Integration), Mr. Astrit Istrefi (Saferworld) and Ms Hanna Sällström (Kvinna till Kvinna).

The speakers raised the following points (which are not necessarily the views of EPLO):

  • CSOs have an important role to play in the EU accession process as agents for change;
  • The Serbian Office for European Integration has signed a Memorandum of Cooperation with 90 CSOs;
  • Regional cooperation and SAP is in itself a peacebuilding exercise;
  • Future of cooperation between the Serbian Office for European Integration and CSOs will focus on the monitoring and advisory role of CSOs and regional advocacy on Western Balkan accession;
  • CSOs have an important role to play in monitoring EU CSDP missions such as EULEX, advising on transparency and accountability and raising public awareness;
  • Positive peace is still a long way from being achieved;
  • The gap between theory and practice, especially regarding the adoption of legislation and its implementation, is apparent;
  • Ownership should not only apply to the governments of the Western Balkans but should include CSOs.

Participants raised the following issues in response to the panel’s presentations:

  • While the EU is generally positive towards CSO involvement, it is met with scepticism by some governments in the region.

Follow-up and joint advocacy work

The discussions held at the seminar could be the starting point for the development of joint advocacy recommendations on EU accession policy. A possibility for taking this forward would be regular meetings of EPLO members and their partners in the region. EPLO would be willing to facilitate an Ad-Hoc Working Group as a vehicle that can be used to react to channel advocacy work into EU policy if it would be useful to do so.

To download the report in full, please click here.

The European Peacebuilding Liaison Office (EPLO) is the platform of European NGOs, networks of NGOs and think tanks active in the field of peacebuilding, who share an interest in promoting sustainable peacebuilding policies among decision-makers in the European Union. EPLO aims to influence the EU so that it promotes and implements measures which lead to sustainable peace between states and within states and peoples, and which transform and resolve conflicts non-violently.

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