Evaluation and perspective seminar in the EZA special project to strengthen social dialogue in the Western Balkans

Undeclared work, the liberalization of markets, a substantial decrease in membership of unions, the overall weak employment situation, corruption and the lack of rule of law - especially for workers' organizations in the social dialogue - are some of the major challenges faced by trade unions in the Western Balkans region. Participants in the evaluation and perspective seminar in the EZA special project to strengthen social dialogue in the Western Balkans agreed unanimously. The seminar was attended by 40 representatives of workers' organizations from Albania, Belgium, Bulgaria, Germany, France, Kosovo (as guests), Slovenia, North Macedonia, Montenegro, the Netherlands, Austria, Serbia and Hungary. It took place from 25 to 27 February 2019 and was organized by ÖZA (Österreichisches Zentrum für Arbeitnehmerbildung).

In his welcoming speech, the EZA honorary chairman, Bartho Pronk, emphasized that Europe was being strengthened by the Western Balkans more than it would be weakened by the eventual Brexit.

In an introductory session, the participants expressed their expectations of the seminar and described problems in their countries: The results should be carried to Brussels. They wanted to be able to keep up in the Western Balkan region with the development in Western Europe. It is about respect for the other, for peace work in an area shaken by war and its effects. It was important to keep an eye on the challenges which also flowed from outside the EU into the Western Balkans - for example, through Russia, the USA, Arab countries or China. Industrial and collective agreements, capacity building, networking among each other, a fragmented union landscape and the minimum wage are important topics. There was still a lack of workers' organizations in the region, a "genuine" social dialogue is very difficult, due to often lack of the rule of law and legal binding, there is little planning security. A major problem is the lack of prospects for young people in the countries of the region, which leads to large migratory flows to the west. A better networking of workers' organizations with each other must be successful.

In his "Strategy for a credible enlargement perspective and EU engagement with the Western Balkans", Veselin Mitov, International Secretary of PODKREPA, Vice-Chairman of EZA and member of the European Economic and Social Committee, highlighted the importance of 2018 as a year the settlement of the name dispute between Greece and FYR Macedonia. He stressed the importance of the Western Balkans for Europe, i.e. in view of geopolitical strategies of Russia, China and Arab countries in the region. In the face of major economic and political problems in the region, it is particularly important to realize what has been achieved in 2018, to maintain its optimism and to actively exploit the opportunities presented by the EU's new strategy towards the Western Balkans.

In a panel discussion with Julia Beischroth-Eberl, Secretary General of the Austrian Federation of Europe Houses, Joseph Thouvenel, vice-chairman of CFTC and EZA, and Njegos Potezica, president of Sindikat Uprave and vice-president of the Confederation of Independent Trade Unions of Serbia, it was agreed that educational work is fundamental, to raise awareness of a European identity. This requires concrete action. So if, for example, the works councils of European companies work together, that is a concrete building to Europe. But networks also mean taking responsibility. Austrian MEP Lukas Mandl underlined the importance of peace-building for the integration of the Western Balkans into the EU. It must be paid attention to a dialogue at eye level. The work on democracy and the rule of law is never completed, but a continuous process. EU membership would not automatically resolve all issues.

EU Ambassador ret. Leopold Maurer emphasized the areas in which the Western Balkans region must make special efforts, according to the EU: the rule of law, security and migration, socio-economic developments, energy, the digital agenda and good neighbourly relations. The region should try to take with it the positive boost of the EU summit in June 2018. Cooperation between the countries would be beneficial, as would close cooperation with the EU institutions and the EU Parliament. Maurer, as well as the Albanian parliamentarian Lorenc Luka, emphasized the importance of workers' organizations in shaping change, and they were pioneers in the planning and design of society. However, they should not fall into the deceptive trap of hoping that the EU will solve all its problems. Instead, workers 'organizations in the region must actively build and maintain their contacts with the EU institutions to promote workers' interests and social dialogue as such.

Veselina Starcheva, senior expert at Podkrepa, and Dijana Roscic, a permanent freelance editor at Deutsche Welle, underlined that all the achievements of the European social model are based on the dialogue in a conversation on "Preserving and Creating a Social Climate for Social Dialogue". Trade unions need to be aware that this dialogue costs a lot of effort.

In the discussions, both in the working groups and in the plenary, the participants wished - they have related to the accession process in their countries - more exchanges with the European authorities and the members of their countries. It is important that the workers' rights, which are in any case, not the best in the countries of the Western Balkans, are not further curtailed. The workers' organizations need to be supported by education to be involved in the process of rapprochement with the EU. Relevant here is a transparent flow of information. All in all, workers' organizations should try to adopt a corrective function in each country. However, her initiative is essential. Better networking among each other must be striven for to strengthen the solidarity among themselves. The participants agreed that Europe was more than taxes and economic issues. It's about building a better world together.

Undeclared work, the liberalization of markets, a substantial decrease in membership of unions, the overall weak employment situation, corruption and the lack of rule of law - especially for workers' organizations in the social dialogue - are some of the major challenges faced by trade unions in the Western Balkans region. Participants in the evaluation and perspective seminar in the EZA special project to strengthen social dialogue in the Western Balkans agreed unanimously. The seminar was attended by 40 representatives of workers' organizations from Albania, Belgium, Bulgaria, Germany, France, Kosovo (as guests), Slovenia, North Macedonia, Montenegro, the Netherlands, Austria, Serbia and Hungary. It took place from 25 to 27 February 2019 and was organized by ÖZA (Österreichisches Zentrum für Arbeitnehmerbildung).

In his welcoming speech, the EZA honorary chairman, Bartho Pronk, emphasized that Europe was being strengthened by the Western Balkans more than it would be weakened by the eventual Brexit.

In an introductory session, the participants expressed their expectations of the seminar and described problems in their countries: The results should be carried to Brussels. They wanted to be able to keep up in the Western Balkan region with the development in Western Europe. It is about respect for the other, for peace work in an area shaken by war and its effects. It was important to keep an eye on the challenges which also flowed from outside the EU into the Western Balkans - for example, through Russia, the USA, Arab countries or China. Industrial and collective agreements, capacity building, networking among each other, a fragmented union landscape and the minimum wage are important topics. There was still a lack of workers' organizations in the region, a "genuine" social dialogue is very difficult, due to often lack of the rule of law and legal binding, there is little planning security. A major problem is the lack of prospects for young people in the countries of the region, which leads to large migratory flows to the west. A better networking of workers' organizations with each other must be successful.

In his "Strategy for a credible enlargement perspective and EU engagement with the Western Balkans", Veselin Mitov, International Secretary of PODKREPA, Vice-Chairman of EZA and member of the European Economic and Social Committee, highlighted the importance of 2018 as a year the settlement of the name dispute between Greece and FYR Macedonia. He stressed the importance of the Western Balkans for Europe, i.e. in view of geopolitical strategies of Russia, China and Arab countries in the region. In the face of major economic and political problems in the region, it is particularly important to realize what has been achieved in 2018, to maintain its optimism and to actively exploit the opportunities presented by the EU's new strategy towards the Western Balkans.

In a panel discussion with Julia Beischroth-Eberl, Secretary General of the Austrian Federation of Europe Houses, Joseph Thouvenel, vice-chairman of CFTC and EZA, and Njegos Potezica, president of Sindikat Uprave and vice-president of the Confederation of Independent Trade Unions of Serbia, it was agreed that educational work is fundamental, to raise awareness of a European identity. This requires concrete action. So if, for example, the works councils of European companies work together, that is a concrete building to Europe. But networks also mean taking responsibility. Austrian MEP Lukas Mandl underlined the importance of peace-building for the integration of the Western Balkans into the EU. It must be paid attention to a dialogue at eye level. The work on democracy and the rule of law is never completed, but a continuous process. EU membership would not automatically resolve all issues.

EU Ambassador ret. Leopold Maurer emphasized the areas in which the Western Balkans region must make special efforts, according to the EU: the rule of law, security and migration, socio-economic developments, energy, the digital agenda and good neighbourly relations. The region should try to take with it the positive boost of the EU summit in June 2018. Cooperation between the countries would be beneficial, as would close cooperation with the EU institutions and the EU Parliament. Maurer, as well as the Albanian parliamentarian Lorenc Luka, emphasized the importance of workers' organizations in shaping change, and they were pioneers in the planning and design of society. However, they should not fall into the deceptive trap of hoping that the EU will solve all its problems. Instead, workers 'organizations in the region must actively build and maintain their contacts with the EU institutions to promote workers' interests and social dialogue as such.

Veselina Starcheva, senior expert at Podkrepa, and Dijana Roscic, a permanent freelance editor at Deutsche Welle, underlined that all the achievements of the European social model are based on the dialogue in a conversation on "Preserving and Creating a Social Climate for Social Dialogue". Trade unions need to be aware that this dialogue costs a lot of effort.

In the discussions, both in the working groups and in the plenary, the participants wished - they have related to the accession process in their countries - more exchanges with the European authorities and the members of their countries. It is important that the workers' rights, which are in any case, not the best in the countries of the Western Balkans, are not further curtailed. The workers' organizations need to be supported by education to be involved in the process of rapprochement with the EU. Relevant here is a transparent flow of information. All in all, workers' organizations should try to adopt a corrective function in each country. However, her initiative is essential. Better networking among each other must be striven for to strengthen the solidarity among themselves. The participants agreed that Europe was more than taxes and economic issues. It's about building a better world together.

 

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