On 8 April, 2019 MESA10 and CEAS Serbia organized a Spring Debate in Banská Bystrica in Slovakia within the framework of the project University Debates. Student teams from 7 universities, namely the Belgrade University, Belgrade, Serbia, Comenius University, Bratislava, Slovakia, University of Novi Sad, Novi Sad, Serbia, Matej Bel University, Banská Bystrica, Slovakia, the International University of Sarajevo, Sarajevo, Bosna and Herzegovina, the University of Montenegro, Podgorica, Montenegro and the Academy of Economic Studies, Chisinau, Moldova took part in the debate. Teams represented 5 different countries from Central Europe, Eastern Partnership and the Western Balkans.
Students during the debate discussed the following questions:
Was the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and of the totalitarian regime a significant event for your country and for you? How would you rate it in comparison with other events in modern history, including the end of the WWII and the achieved or future membership of your country in the EU and/or NATO?
Since its founding, the EU was able to offer a model of cooperation which resulted in prosperity and security of its citizens. In your opinion, are the EU’s best years behind it or can we still tap, use and benefit from its potential? And what are your expectations from the EU?
70 years after its founding, what is the role of NATO in your opinion? Is it still contributing to overall security, does it provide security guarantees to its members or is it an irrelevant organization hindering security?
Full debate is available here:
After the Debate the student teams had the honor of being officially received by the President of the Slovak Republic, H.E. Andrej Kiska. President Kiska said goodbye to the students with a message for future debates: “Be authentic and open-minded and listen to what your partner has to say”.
Afterwards, the students headed to Brussels, where they presented the EU Policy Recommendations to the Members of the European Parliament and visited NATO Headquarters.
On 9 April, 2019 the teams met with the representatives of the Foreign Relations Committee of the European Parliament (AFET and presented them their EU Policy Recommendations. The distinguished members of the European Parliament were Charles Tannock, ECR Foreign Affairs Coordinator, Rapporteur for Montenegro, Christian Preda, EPP Foreign Affairs Coordinator, Rapporteur for Bosnia and Herzegovina and Eduard Kukan, member of the EPP, Chair of EU-Serbia SAPC. Mr. Eduard Kukan welcomed the students: “I am looking forward to new and imaginative presentations, which can come only from you, the young people”.
The teams elaborated on their EU Policy Recommendations on a wide range of topics.
University of Montenegro team noted: Montenegro still has a lot of problems when it comes to the question of corruption, crime, and possibilities for youth to achieve prosperity and find a job in our country. We have to admit that the level of human capital flight is big and citizens are aware of it. The political situation is not solved in an appropriate way and it has to be done before we finish our process of becoming a member of the EU. The EU needs to prove that it is the best option, especially with populism on the rise and BREXIT. The EU should support partnerships for its own political sake. The EU needs to put more accent on education since populism and extremism tend to be a result of low-quality education. The EU should also help financially to monitor more closely the accession process and to further enhance it. Sometimes it seems as if the screening process were not happening. The implementation of legislation and regulations is on a very low level.
The reaction of the Member of the European Parliament: “Human capital flight, or brain drain, is truly a great issue for your countries. If people have a better opportunity, they will leave. This is not only the problem of non-EU countries, but people move within member states as well—people from Poland, Hungary or Romania move to other countries. However, there is an important question we must ask: what can be done for the Montenegrian diaspora to make them return?”
“I would be rather optimistic about the future. The challenges and chaos of BREXIT will work as a vaccine against populist and nationalist parties in societies”
University of Belgrade noted: Although the EU has so far given considerable support to minority rights, especially ethnic minority rights, as a part of its wider commitment to furthering human rights, legislation on this particular topic has been slow to arrive. Also, there is a lack of systematic monitoring of minority rights within the EU member states and outside the EU as well. We need more proactive and protective minority rights. We propose to define a minimal standard of minority rights, which would act as a benchmark for accessing minority rights and based on that a non-partisan mechanism to monitor the rule of law and minority rights.
The reaction of the Member of the European Parliament: “Minority rights is a very dear topic of this Parliament. The EU takes minority rights very seriously, the Council of Europe and the European Parliament often complete and compete with each other on this topic. By the EU membership definition the member states need to safeguard all minority rights. Acting more openly and loudly would only bring the unwanted attention of the far-right parties”.
International University of Sarajevo noted: The EU could put more pressure on Bosnian politicians, e.g. by implementing political or economic sanctions, to work and cooperate more with the EU, since the weak rule of law is the main reason of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s lacking behind its neighbors. The EU integration process would help Bosnia and Herzegovina to enhance the rule of law and to eliminate current challenges. We can see the efforts of civil society to influence the right to speak and the rule of law through current cases of „searching justice“ by Davor Dragičević and Muriz Memić for the „murders“ of their sons. Croatia should also help other countries more, but currently, it is working against them.
The reaction of the Member of the European Parliament: “We need more pressure on politicians but from the Bosnians, not Brussels. We can put pressure from here, but if there is no pressure from your side, there is little we can do. It seems that in Bosnia nobody has true authority. Everyone is pushing their responsibility to foreign powers—Turkey, Russia or the EU.”
Academy of Economic Studies of Moldova noted: Europe is facing challenges connected with migration—the EU and Moldova as well. Moldova loses about 65 people daily, which is a considerable number. Often these people enter into and work in the European Union illegally and isolated. The EU should create a centralized and harmonized digital system of migrants, which will monitor the duration and status of migrants in the EU. The EU should also enhance cooperation between non-EU countries with their diaspora within the EU. Migrants should also have access to healthcare. Today the European Union does have a solid legal base for healthcare regulations, policies, laws, and conventions, but little information in writing about migrants’ right to healthcare and available services exists all across Europe. Migrants should be fully informed and integrated within society.
The reaction of the Member of the European Parliament: “Working with diaspora is not only a challenge for new member states or potential member states. Poland, Hungary, Romania also have people leaving the country, but they do not care. They don´t think it is their responsibility since they left”.
“We would like to work with your government, but your government is not working with us. We cannot spend EU money on a country where the President thinks Association Agreements are a bad idea. We cannot give EU money to a country led by oligarchs or to Russian enterprises. The European citizens are against that. Moldova is unfortunately now on the blacklist, and I am very sad. We cannot replace your politicians. We still give money to the civil society, but they cannot change things quickly”.
University of Novi Sad noted: The awareness of the EU in rural areas of Serbia is very low. The EU should financially encourage young people to return to their communities and raise EU awareness. We recognized violence against women as one key problem that surrounds us. We believe that certain measures, combined with successful examples from some of the EU countries that have struggled with this problem would help our country to overcome it. Last but not least, the problem of ecology. One of the toughest bridges to cross in Serbia’s EU integration is the chapter concerning the protection of the environment. Awareness about the issue is low, there are a lot of wild landfills, and rivers get heavily polluted. Environmental protection is very low and we have to act now before it is too late.
The reaction of Mr. Eduard Kukan: “The EU should concentrate on the issues of domestic violence or ecology. These topics do not require a huge amount of financial resources, but the results are visible to the general population. EU and the governments in the accession countries should work together, as national governments from the Members States know better how to utilize money from EU funds”.
Comenius University, Bratislava noted: The elections to the European Parliament still in many countries, including and especially in Slovakia, are suffering from low popularity. This is especially dangerous as many countries nowadays, in the light of recent internal political development, have to deal with the surge of anti- European and nationalistic political parties which are if not growing at least maintaining support. Keep spreading the positive message and enhance political integration. The strategy is set by Germany and France and smaller member states are not in the center. The fact that the EP elections are usually the least attended in the country, increases the risk of easy mobilization of the electorate of the anti-system or anti-European parties from all over Europe thus granting them easier access to the EP.
The reaction of Mr. Eduard Kukan: “Sometimes I joke that Slovaks think that everything in the EU is fine so they do not need to vote. We are also witnessing a “Slovak paradox”: our people trust the EU more than their national parliament.”
University of Matej Bel, Banska Bystrica noted: The promotion of the EU mechanisms is not sufficient. EU needs to be much closer to the people. All over Europe, right-wing populist parties are on the rise. Ordinary people in Slovakia need to be in touch with the EU as much as possible, therefore education and promotion is the key. Sharing experience, education, and promotion of the EU are important. Euroscepticism and populism can be decreased by more debates on national TVs, otherwise, they will lead the EU.
The reaction of Mr. Eduard Kukan: “I do believe that standard, traditional majority parties will still set the tone in the new European Parliament. Leaders of populist parties have huge egos. Even if they are merged in one big political fraction within the Parliament, they will not set the agenda.”
On 10 April, 2019, the teams visited the NATO HQ in Brussels. They were welcomed by Robert Pszczel, Senior Officer for Russia and Western Balkans, NATO Public Diplomacy Division. The students left NATO HQ with these quotes: “NATO is still considered the best insurance company on hard events” and “The Western Balkans is not our backyard, it is our frontline“.