On June 8-9, the Balkan Trust for Democracy (BTD), in cooperation with the Bulgarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Centre for Liberal Strategies, co-organized the first Sofia Forum for the Balkans, under the title: “The Balkans in the Globalized World: Fostering the Region’s European Agenda”.
The event brought 150 high-level policy and opinion makers from the Balkans together with their counterparts from Europe, the United States, the Middle East and North Africa. Welcome remarks were delivered by Boyko Borissov , Bulgarian Prime Minister, Craig Kennedy, President of GMF, and Sandra Breka, Head of Department at the Robert Bosch Stiftung . Panelists addressed a range of issues including the continued inclusion of the Balkans as a priority on the global political agenda; EU enlargement in the context of the economic crisis; divergences between U.S. and EU policy in Europe’s neighborhood; the engagement of future leaders in ongoing debates; and comparative analyses of the Balkans and MENA region in the areas of ethnicized politics and economic diversification. Discussions, recognizing the shift in media attention away from the Balkans, centered on the importance of continuing the European integration of the countries of the region, furthering cooperation both within the Balkans and with the wider Mediterranean, and mitigating the effects of the European economic crisis.
Amid the continued effects of the Euro crisis, and in light of prevailing uncertainties about the future of the EU, participants stressed the need for strong leadership from governments and civil society in the Balkans. Particular note was made of the importance of education reform in the region, linked to engaging a new generation of leaders, and to strengthening human capital and fostering economic growth.
Speakers included: Nickolay Mladenov, Minister of Foreign Affairs (Bulgaria); Carl Bildt, Minister of Foreign Affairs (Sweden); Vesna Pusic, Minister of Foreign Affairs (Croatia); Rosen Plevneliev, President of Bulgaria; Nikolaus Graf Lambsdorff, Special Envoy for South-Eastern Europe, Turkey and the EFTA States at the Federal Foreign Office (Germany); Philip T. Reeker, Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs,U.S. Department of State (USA); Franco Frattini, former Minister of Foreign Affairs (Italy); Robert Cooper, Counselor, European External Action Service (UK); Milica Delevic, Director, European Integration Office (Serbia); Anna Ibrisagic, Member of the European Parliament (Sweden); and Miroslav Lajcak, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs (Slovakia).