On June 29, 2020 student teams from 7 universities– the Belgrade University, Serbia, Comenius University, Bratislava, Slovakia, University of Novi Sad, Serbia, Matej Bel University, Banská Bystrica, Slovakia, the International University of Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the University of Montenegro, Podgorica and the Academy of Economic Studies, Chisinau, Moldova had an opportunity to present their Policy Recommendation to the Members of the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the European Parliament.
Under the patronage of Mr. Vladimir Bilcik, the teams were welcome by two distinguished Members of the European Parliament (MEP): Mr. Lukas Mandl, the Chair of Delegations for relations with the Korean Peninsula and Vice-Chair of the Subcommittee on Security and Defence, Member of the Conference of Delegation Chairs, Member of the Committees on Foreign Affairs, Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs, Member of the Delegations to the Cariforum-EU Parliamentary Committee and the Delegation for relations with Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Kosovo; and Mr. Vladimir Bilcik, the Chair of the Delegation to the EU-Montenegro Stabilization and Association Parliamentary Committee, Member of the Conference of Delegation Chairs, Member of the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs, and Member of the Delegation to the EU-North Macedonia Joint Parliamentary Committee. They noted: “We are all Central Europe and it means something, we care about the Balkans. We lost Great Britain and we have to do everything possible not to lose the Western Balkans as well”.
The teams elaborated in their EU Policy Recommendations on a wide range of topics.
Academy of Economic Studies noted: “We are looking to create a better future for ourselves and for the rest of the young generation in Moldova” Team members recommend to pay more attention to small and medium enterprises (SME), as they represent more than 80% of European businesses and two-thirds of the jobs of the private sector. SMEs play an important role in the economy and therefore more European projects should focus on small and medium enterprises. Moldova´s export mostly consists of agricultural goods, which is negatively impacted and will be impacted by the climate change. More partnership and cooperation is needed not only at the European level but also globally. More attention should be paid to the people and not only to the political games– most problems Moldovans are facing are related to the workforce.
The MEPs noted in the discussion with the Moldovan team:
“Old conflicts can have such a negative impact. We should leave the old conflicts in the past. We have to resolve it through a new dialogue, personal contact with young people, and people with different ethnic and religious backgrounds.”
“We are really interested in Moldova because we believe that Europe will be better off and safer if more countries cooperate. Moldova deserves a positive change for the sake of young people. Smaller countries can thrive in a secure bigger Europe. It is important that Moldova feels that it has the strong support of an ally in the European Union when facing its neighbors”.
The team from Matej Bel University focused its recommendations on fake news in the European Union. As the team underlined, fake news is one of the tools used by foreign powers to achieve their interests. Wars today are not led in a conventional way but rather in a hybrid way. Hoaxes and fake news are not only influencing international relations and security but also public health, as manifested during the coronavirus pandemic. We should focus more on education, internal policy, and international cooperation. In education, the team recommends creating a platform for secondary students to discuss with them the implication of fake news. Governments should focus more on stopping the spread of fake news (while securing the freedom speech) by exposing their source and creating a list of problematic media outlets. Governments should also be more active on social media– especially in searching for the sources of fake news and exposing them. In international cooperation, governments could cooperate with each other to identify the sources of fake news.
MEPs noted in the discussion with the Matej Bel University team:
“We should do everything we can to make sure we defend facts. On social media, we should prioritize defending facts over the fight of propaganda imposed by external forces”.
“Fake news is a topic we, Central Europeans feel very strongly about. Sometimes we have to convince larger countries about the urgency of the issue. The fight is going in a good direction, Europe is making a lot of effort and has some success.”
Belgrade University team brought attention to the environmental questions in Serbia in connection with Chapter 27 on the environment and climate change. Serbia has a number of mini-hydropower plants which might be seen as a renewable energy source worth supporting, but in fact, they are harming the environment and local communities. They are built ignoring the respected laws and regulations. Local communities have been fighting against the mini-hydropower plants for almost two years but corruption often won. The wrongly-constructed mini-hydropower plants are eradicating endemic species from rivers. Other renewable energy sources, such as wind-power, geothermal, or solar-power could be cheaper and more beneficial for the local communities. EU should encourage joint projects in the Western Balkans to increase the energy efficiency of the whole region.
The MEPs noted in the discussion with the team:
“When my country was joining the EU, we did not talk much about the environment and now it is catching up with us”.
“Investments into environmentally sound projects should not be a subject to corrupt practices”.
“One of the lessons learned from the pandemic: Europe has to become less dependent on imported energy resources”
Comenius University team focused on the accession process of the Western Balkans, Chinese influence and soft power and education. In Slovakia, the national position on the accession is unclear, with which they agree, claiming that accession should not start until the foreseeable economic crisis caused by the pandemic is over. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, more Slovaks are returning home and looking for jobs. However, if the EU accepts Montenegro to the European Union, massive migration can be expected not only to the V4 countries but to the whole EU as well.
Chinese influence should be addressed with Foreign Direct Investments in Slovakia. In Hungary due to the effects of the coronavirus, Chinese businesses are already investing massively, enabling them price dumping in the Schengen Zone. Countries after the crisis will be more willing to accept Chinese investments, following the Hungarian example. Structural and Cohesion Funds could replace Chinese investments, create jobs and enhance the public image of the EU.
Education should be a mixed competency between the EU and national states to increase the quality of the education to make the population more resistant to fake news.
The MEPs noted in the discussion with the students:
“We need to invest massively into modern education during the crisis. We think that this will be one of the top priorities of the EU. It will increase our economic competitiveness as well”.
“We have publicly called for stopping the aggressive ways of Chinese efforts to take over strategic companies and businesses. We need to think about ways of dealing with China and we need to be very careful about it”.
“Enlargement has never been easy. Accession is never easy, but it is a win-win story. The effects of the COVID crisis will complicate the situation but I strongly support the position of the European Commission on this issue to have at least one Western Balkan country ready by 2024 for accession. It is realistic”.
University of Novi Sad team focused on the media issues. In Serbia, the media sector is facing challenges: the market is undeveloped, media are dependent on government funding and advertisement. Media being a big power of democracy cannot rely on government funds for its existence since its influence is strong, news are biased. We need to develop democracy in the media.
“Our public television has a number of problems, but we have a sense of public media. You need to invest in independent public media who will oversee the situation, otherwise, the situation will not change. There are no revolutionary changes in this area, change will only come gradually and over time”.
“We need public broadcasting all over the Western Balkans, as they follow the common good. I would prefer one covering the whole Western Balkans in individual national languages.”
The University of Montenegro team thinks that Montenegro has adopted a number of changes during the transition into a democracy. However, there are still areas where changes are needed. Montenegro must be appealing to young educated people where they will be able to find the future. Human capital flights from the country need to be decreased. Issues with corruption, nepotism, disrespecting the rule of law and media biases should be addressed. The EU needs to push every state into adopting legislation. The integration processes are helping the country, there is plenty of improvement but it takes a long time and the public perception remains a challenge. Political integration of Central European countries has not harmed the EU, neither should the accession of Montenegro.
The MEPs noted in the discussion with the team:
“Montenegro is the first country that managed to open all the chapters. Hopefully, soon you will be able to close them all. Montenegro has a very good chance to become a member, but there are several things that need to be done on the ground. You need to reform, and reform, and reform.”
“European institutions will never be the strongest communicator of the EU in any of the countries outside the European Union. That lays on your shoulders.”
The team of the International University of Sarajevo brought the recommendation connected to the Dayton Agreement, which was signed in 1995, ending the Bosnian war. Bosnians should focus on solving the problem with corruption by changing the system of elections– the EU could help with advocating for a new voting system inspired by the Estonian model. EU and NATO should impose the implementation of crucial decisions on the politicians. In Bosnia, reforms cannot be easily implemented as politics is a constant fight between the three parties. Bosnians need to unify. Although it is not in the competence of the EU to unify Bosnians, once again an outside party could help the unification.
The MEPs noted in the discussion with the team:
“No country must be left behind. I cannot agree with leaving Bosnia and Kosovo behind. We need to push for reconciliation. Unless it takes place, none of the Western Balkan counties, especially Bosnia, would be able to move forward”
“We cannot have two categories of countries in the Western Balkans. We have to make sure that all the countries in the region have a European perspective. The European Union is taking these issues very seriously”.
FULL TEXTS OF RECOMMENDATIONS CAN BE FOUND HERE: