3rd December 2022

Western Balkans Summit 2022

Sofia, Bulgaria

New Directions annual Western Balkans Summit has for five years in a row brought focus to the Western Balkans region. This year it is perhaps more important than most, with both triumph and turbulence for the region. From elections in Bosnia Herzegovina and Bulgaria, to the EU Commission recommending Bosnia for candidate status and negotiations beginning for Albania and North Macedonia to join the EU.

However, hanging over the region is the spill over from the War in Ukraine – and continued pressure on the Balkans from Russia, China, and Serbia. High energy prices and economic instability also pose a challenge for governments in the region. Finally, the continuous challenge of how to engage the next generation in the political process and give them a voice in the future of their home countries.

As the Western Balkans move closer to the European Union, it is important to understand the difficulties that face the region, and to find long lasting solutions. The Western Balkans Summit aims to provide such a platform.



Registration of participants and coffee service

10:15 – 11:30

Keynote Speech

  • Olivér Várhelyi; Commissioner for Neighbourhood and Enlargement

Panel I

The EU Enlargement process of the Western Balkans and the way forward

The Western Balkan countries, geopolitically and historically, belong to Europe and their accession to the European Union is a natural process set out as priority in the 2003 European Council summit in Thessaloniki. However, years after the first Western Balkan countries applied for membership, only Croatia joined the Union on 1st July 2013, whereas for the other countries in the region, the enlargement process became a challenging effort of solving bilateral issues and introducing democratic and economic reforms to align with EU acquis and prepare for EU membership. The Russian aggression against Ukraine brought back the enlargement to the top of the European agenda with some key developments in 2022 - granting candidate status to Ukraine and the Republic of Moldova on 23 June, and North Macedonia and Albania holding their first intergovernmental conferences on 19 July. Following the positive assessment of the European Commission, the European Council is expected to soon grand candidate status to Bosnia and Herzegovina.

  • Emilija Redžepi; Deputy Prime Minister of Kosovo for Minority Issues and Human Rights (NDS-KS)
  • Ryszard Czarnecki; MEP, Law and Justice (ECR-PL)
  • Tomáš Szunyog; Ambassador, Head of EU Office in Kosovo/EU Special Representative (EEAS)
  • Ladislav Ilčić; MEP, Hrvatski suverenisti (ECR-HR)
  • Ferenc Németh; Research Fellow at Institute for Foreign Affairs and Trade (HU)
  • Tomasz Grzegorz Grosse; Expert on EU politics and international relations, Warsaw Institute (PL)
  • Moderator: Angel Dzhambazki; MEP, VMRO-BND (ECR-BG)

11:30 – 11:45

Coffee Break

11:45 - 13:00

Keynote Speech

  • Mariya Gabriel; Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth

Panel II

Towards improved connectivity of the Western Balkans

Improving connectivity within the Western Balkans, as well as between the Western Balkans and the European Union, is a key factor for growth and jobs and will bring clear benefits for the region’s economies and citizens. The extension of the Trans-European Transport Networks to the Western Balkans ensures closer integration with the EU as well as the basis for leveraging investment in infrastructure, such as EU support through the Western Balkans Investment Framework and the Connecting Europe Facility. In order to further stimulate development of infrastructure in the energy, transport, and digital sectors in the entire Central, Eastern and South-Eastern Europe, it is crucial to incorporate the Western Balkans in the Three Seas Initiative linking countries between the Baltic Sea, Black Sea and the Adriatic Sea.

  • Angel Dzhambazki; MEP, VMRO-BND (ECR-BG)
  • Petar Mutafchiev; Chairman of Forum for Balkan Transport and Infrastructure, Minister of Transport of the Republic of Bulgaria 2005-2009 (BG)
  • Bogdan Rzońca; MEP, Law and Justice (ECR-PL)
  • Cintia Viola; Research Fellow at Institute for Foreign Affairs and Trade (HU)
  • Jakub Lachert; journalist (PL)
  • Moderator: Dawid Nahajowski; APA-EP, Law and Justice (ECR-PL)

13:00 - 14:30

Break and working lunch

14:30 - 15:45

Panel III

Security, Migration and Foreign Interference in the Western Balkans

At the geographic and political cross-roads of Europe, where East, West, and South meet, the Western Balkans is at risk of hostile influence of autocratic powers such as Russia, China, Iran, and others. The Russian aggression against Ukraine has clearly shown how strong the Russian influence and disinformation campaign in the Western Balkans have been. In addition, for centuries, the region has been a main migratory path making it prone to migratory pressure from outside Europe importing instability and threats to security. The European Union and the United States, long champions of the democratic will of the region’s citizens, find themselves supporting a population under constant threat in Economic, Political, Social, and Informational spheres of life. Being at the doorstep to the European Union, any instability and threat to security in the Western Balkans, as well as foreign interference, has a negative spill over effects in the Union.

  • Anna Magyar; ECR CoR Vice-President, CoR Rapporteur on the Enlargement Package, Fidesz (HU) (video recording)
  • Charlie Weimers; MEP, Sweden Democrats (ECR-SE) (video recording)
  • Anna Fotyga; MEP, Law and Justice (ECR-PL)
  • Lars Patrick Berg; MEP, Liberal Conservative Reformers (ECR-DE)
  • Jan Kovář, Ph.D.; Deputy Research Director & Head of Centre for European Politics at Institute of International Relations (CZ)
  • Julianna Ármás; Research Fellow at Institute for Foreign Affairs and Trade (HU)
  • Milan Jovanović; Analyst, Digital Forensic Research Center (ME)
  • Moderator: Robert Tyler; Senior Policy Advisor, New Direction Foundation (UK)

15:45 – 16:00

Coffee Break

16:00 - 17:30

Panel IV

Future of the Western Balkans: A Young Political Leader’s Roundtable

The Western Balkans is a dynamic region with rich social diversity that represents the breadth of European culture. However, the strength of this diversity can also be exploited with social inequality, nationalism, ethnic tensions, and other social fissures being used to promote divisive interests. It is important to establish unity and good neighbourly relations in the Western Balkans to enable the region to move closer and eventually join the European Union. With continued challenges of emigration and brain-drain, talent-management and the empowerment of a future generation of leaders is essential for the success of the Western Balkan countries. This panel will bring together young political leaders and political scientists from the Western Balkans to discuss current challenges facing the region, and their visions for the future direction.

  • Slaven Raguž; MP, Hrvatska Republikanska Stranka (BH)
  • Saška Radujkov; Ambassador of the European Democracy Youth Network in Serbia (RS)
  • Valbona Halitaj; Chairwoman of the Union of Students Council and Member of the National Council of Democratic Party (AL)
  • Peđa Mitrović; Secretary-General of the Freedom and Justice Party (RS)
  • Petar Petrov; PhD candidate in Social Sciences, MA in Diplomacy and National Security (BG)
  • Krystian Szkwarek; ECR liaison officer in Bulgaria (ECR-BG)
  • Moderator: Mladen Barać; APA-EP, Hrvatski suverenisti (ECR-HR)


Presentation of report:

Accession of North Macedonia to the European Union: Historical overview of the relations between the Republic of North Macedonia and the Republic of Bulgaria

  • Milen Mihov; PhD Associate Professor


Closing remarks

  • Angel Dzhambazki; MEP, Vice President of New Direction Foundation