Bulgarian Centre for Liberal Strategies Promotes Transcontinental Dialogue
The Centre for Liberal Strategies (CLS), a Sofia-based nongovernmental organization, was deeply concerned by the rifts forming throughout Europe in 2012. At the time, the eurozone crisis prompted extreme doubt among European countries, leaving people to question not only the single-currency system but also the entire concept of the European identity.
It was then that CLS realized the solution could not be found through the traditional EU or eurozone channels. The problem expanded to “periphery countries” like Turkey and Russia, so those actors also needed to be included in any discussions to resolve the issue.
“We cannot really put the border of where the crisis strikes to just the Union,” explained CLS Executive Director Anna Ganeva. “Both challenges and solutions are in the periphery of Europe — in countries that are not in the Union and may not even be trying to be. If we try to address soft security issues, we need to look at the bigger picture and see the consequences for neighboring countries as well.”
That year, CLS held a series of seminars and lectures called “Europe at Risk.” The goal of the program was to bring eurozone and periphery countries together to rethink how they formulate policies and how they would deal with a changed economic environment, so they could avoid making the same mistakes. The conference proved to be a productive place for experts, policymakers, military personnel, and others to gather to discuss Europe’s greatest problems with the aim of finding a policy solution. CLS has continued to provide that platform for interaction ever since.
The Balkan Trust for Democracy (BTD) supported the 2016-17 seminar and lecture series “Next Europe in the Context of Internal and External Challenges.”
CLS held a conference that consisted of four two-day seminars in Vienna in partnership with the Sofia Office of the European Council on Foreign Relations and the Bruno Kreisky Forum for International Dialogue. Each seminar had between 20 and 40 participants, including diplomats and experts, and addressed a different topic — the first of which was “Visions for Next Europe.” After the seminar, CLS also held a public lecture, which gathered between 80 and 100 attendees.
Participants discussed “the hardest issues,” according to Ganeva, including the prevention of radicalization, the media’s role in elections, doubt over the EU’s effectiveness, and the best way to spread messages to populist and extremist populations who might not want to hear opinions that are opposed to their views.
“We are trying to discover how we can formulate a European response to the problems we are facing. It is very important to be as synchronized as possible,” said Ganeva.
The result of the conference was a policy paper entitled “Stability and security in times of political transition: Which policies for a stronger Europe?,” and many of the attendees also wrote papers and started to focus their work on topics addressed at the conference.
Ganeva explained that these seminars give people of different backgrounds, whose work and policy preferences sometimes seem at odds, a chance to understand each other and find common ground. These differing perspectives are part of what made the series so interesting and successful.
“At these seminars, we have this strong tendency of discussion among the different parts and segments of the decision-making process, and in that I really believe we had a very positive impact,” said Ganeva. “That is something that I do believe was beneficial for everyone involved.”
Ganeva also noted the importance of continuing to include periphery countries, emphasizing the importance of including the Western Balkans. If some European problems are starting and occurring in these countries, then these countries are the key to solving these problems.
“Europe should really have a voice of Europe, and I would say we have enough external challenges to help us realize that even better,” said Ganeva.
CLS’s network is the only one that consistently includes representatives of the three major players in the area — Russia, Turkey, and the EU, which means this program offers a unique expertise on the European crisis that cannot be found elsewhere.
“The network has already generated important and valuable insights to be used in making strategic and current decisions,” said BTD Program Coordinator Tijana Kljajević. “Coalitions of donors as well as coalitions of think tanks are proved to be the engine for new ideas and policy scenarios.”
Because CLS and BTD have been working together for so long, the series has been able to develop into a recurring project with real value.
“It is a very successful series of projects, which brings into light how important it is to have a donor that is not just a donor, but actually a partner who understands what you’re doing and why,” said Ganeva. “You don’t need millions to have some impact, but you do need to have a clear idea that something is important and to keep working on it for a long time.”
The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.