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Let’s Celebrate Opportunities

The political outcomes of elections across Europe and the US could have a negative impact on the region’s long-term prospects. While this might seem gloomy, the success stories of businesses tell a different tale: the region is full of opportunities for those who dare to dream

One of the articles in this edition of Connecting the Region, devoted to demystifying our region’s water resources, discusses the opportunities and challenges we face as “a glass of water that’s half full and half empty”. Although this expression might be overused, it will likely resonate with all readers as they explore the interviews and analytical articles that we’ve compiled.

Political outcomes at the EU level, in some of the Union’s largest countries, and the upcoming US presidential election could impact our region significantly, influencing the EU enlargement process. The EU’s expansion to include the Western Balkans has been underway for over two decades, with Serbia and Montenegro having negotiated for over ten years. Despite initial momentum, the process has since slowed significantly, while the goal of full membership remains elusive. In contrast, enlargement efforts for Ukraine, Moldova, and to some extent Georgia, have been accelerated due to political support amid ongoing conflicts. However, as noted by our political commentator Dr Milan Igrutinović, from the Institute of European Studies, enthusiasm for these candidates might wane as they tackle essential reforms.

The Western Balkan six have seen little accession progress, despite economic initiatives like the EU Growth Plan. A question arises as to whether a renewed push from the candidates, or fresh EU energy from viewing these negotiations as a geopolitical necessity, could help. Unfortunately, the recent European Parliament election didn’t yield strong proponents for this approach, with right-wing parties generally opposing broader EU enlargement.

For the Western Balkans, a positive shift may depend on new EU leadership that frames accession as a geopolitical and political win. This could be bolstered by changes in US leadership. Without such a vision and coordination, the region risks continued stagnation and missed opportunities, believes Igrutinović, whose article is published in this edition. Readers may also decide to check out what David McAllister, a Member of the European Parliament since 2014 and a former EP Rapporteur for Serbia, has to say on the same topic.

A significant portion of this issue is devoted to the possibilities offered by the EU’s Growth Plan for the Western Balkans. Business champions like Alkaloid, Ananas, BAT, Delta, HT, Idea, Nelt, OMR, Porto Montenegro, Adriatic Marinas, Azmont, Luštica and Elcom have all recognised the region’s economic potential. They have shared their success stories from various sectors, highlighting how they have harnessed growing ties among countries in the region and with the European market. All these enterprises build on the premise of an EU future for the Western Balkans, taking steps towards creating a level playing field and making better use of the region’s natural and human resources.

As a bonus, this issue includes two powerful stories. One is an interview with Etienne Thobois, CEO of Paris 2024, who explains how a major sporting and economic event like the Paris Olympics can be transformed into a success story, boosting the prospects of a poor neighbourhood in Paris. The second is an interview with North Macedonian musician Vlatko Stefanovski, celebrating his 50-year career. Stefanovski has graced many stages across the globe, showcasing the beautiful musical heritage of our region and touching the hearts, souls and minds of many.

Let’s celebrate the opportunities and people who dare to fill our glass with joy.

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