Looking back, it’s hard to remain optimistic about the state of the EU.

Besfort Berisha

In what is known as the ‘cultural capital’ of Greece – in Thessaloniki – 20 years ago the heads of state of the European Union (EU) gathered together with the countries of the Western Balkans (WB) to discuss many issues and create the possibility of starting the processes for EU integration. Part of this summit was also a delegation from Kosovo, which included the president Ibrahim Rugova and the prime minister Bajram Rexhepi.

Now 20 years have passed since the Thessaloniki Summit, a historic event in which the leaders of the EU member states agreed with the WB states to share the values of democracy, human rights, the rule of law, and much more. . But looking back, it’s hard to remain optimistic about the state of the EU.

The EU enlargement process has stagnated and the EU seems to have lost its integration focus. This sense of Euro-optimism is gradually fading as a result of geopolitical moments such as BREXIT or the growing level of populism and nationalism within Europe.

Astrit Istrefi from Balkan Forum says: “Progress and stagnation become much clearer when we find that 20 years after Thessaloniki, none of the six WB countries has managed to become a member of the EU. Rapid geopolitical developments, especially since the brutal Russian aggression against Ukraine, have returned attention to Kosovo and WB. However, even in this situation, it would be very optimistic to think that Kosovo, or any of the 6 WB countries, can become a full member of the EU in the next 10 years.”

However, we must recall that this sentiment has not always been so dominant within the EU. But we have to ask ourselves: how can we maintain Euro-optimism? How much is the EU willing to contribute and how much are we – as citizens – able to fulfill our obligations?

To answer these questions, we must first understand the role of civil society. Civil society organizations have played a key role in this process, constantly offering alternative solutions and perspectives on all the issues that concern our society.

Civil society organizations have been at the forefront of the European integration mission for many years now, working hard to promote dialogue inside and outside the EU, and creating platforms for open discussions so that new ideas can be shared and implemented.

So it is clear that there are many steps we can take if the EU does nothing.

Istrefi says: “We must continue working together within and beyond Europe to ensure that the values of democracy, individual rights and respect for human dignity are achieved across the continent.”

We must not abandon Euro-optimism! Let us walk together in the spirit of solidarity so that we all benefit from the progress of European integration.

It is our responsibility as citizens to show that we are able to preserve the spirit of optimism and make it more tangible and real than ever before!


Besfort Berisha is a young professional with several years of experience in the media industry, and an active citizen in Kosovo