Evaluation seminar of the EZA special project for workers' organisations in the Western Balkans

The evaluation seminar of the EZA special project for workers' organisations in the Western Balkans took place on March 16, 2022, online via ZOOM, hosted in Vienna / Austria, organized by ÖZA (Austrian Centre for Employee Education), in cooperation with EZA and with the financial support of the European Union. 33 representatives of workers' organisations from Albania, Belgium, Bulgaria, Germany, Kosovo, Croatia, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Netherlands, Austria, Romania, Serbia and Hungary took part in the seminar.

Opening of the seminar and welcome: In his greeting, ÖZA President Norbert SCHNEDL refers to a very special time: Russia has started a war of aggression in Ukraine. The importance of the EU as a “peace union”, which seemed almost forgotten, moves back into focus. We all work for peace and strongly condemn war. EZA is also a platform for coordinating solidarity aid. The Western Balkans special project, which aims to strengthen social dialogue, is more important than ever.

Many thanks to the organising team for preparing the seminar in extraordinary times. EZA Secretary General Sigrid SCHRAML expressly thanks the team for making this ONLINE format possible despite the war. We are all learning the bitter lesson that war is not a thing of the past and we must ask: what can guarantee peace? The aim of the special project is that all countries in the Western Balkans can quickly become members of the EU. To do this, we have to overcome hurdles - together. Andreas GJECAJ provides an overview of the ONLINE seminar.


Field reports from the Western Balkans

In his introduction, moderator Norbert KLEIN, EZA, explains that this seminar was planned completely differently, but the war changed everything. We want to network with each other and exchange ideas. How is the respective EU integration evaluated? What progress and obstacles do we see? How does this affect our unions?

Mara ERDELJ, Bofos and WOW, report with a power point and numerous pictures about the 10-year history and progress of the Western Balkans seminars. Our common "Christian values" are the basis for friendship, mutual trust and respect. Björn van HEUSDEN, WOW, reports from the start in September 2012 in Trieste. Much has been achieved together since then, but much remains to be done. EZA helped with difficulties with networks. We learned from each other There is huge potential in the Western Balkans. Sasha TORLAKOVIC from the Serbian construction workers' union reports on the good cooperation via EZA with Belgian trade unions. In Serbia, the social dialogue has stalled due to upcoming elections. He hopes that the Western Balkan countries can become EU members in the near future.


EU integration from the point of view of the EU institutions

After an introduction by Andreas GJECAJ, the EU parliamentarian Lukas MANDL, from Austria, will give a presentation and subsequent discussion with an insight into the EU Parliament: In the war that the Russian leadership – i.e. the Kremlin, not the Russian people – is waging against Ukraine, all international peacekeeping agreements have been broken. There was a special plenary session of the EU Parliament and tough sanctions against Russia were decided upon. These are supported by all EU countries and also by Switzerland and the United Kingdom - only Serbia is not involved. Clear language must be spoken here because we – both EZA and Austria – demand rapid EU accession for all 6 countries in the Western Balkans. In this context, solidarity among all European countries and recognition of all states – including the Republic of Kosovo – is indispensable. In the following discussion, it was primarily Serbian participants who took the floor: Serbia is particularly affected because its capital, Belgrade, was bombed by NATO in the 1990s. Despite the very emotional discussion about the victims of the war in ex-Yugoslavia, we keep talking. No hate expressions should be used in dialogue. Lukas Mandl concludes by reminding us that arch-enemies France and Germany have also found peace and friendship in the EU after centuries of mutual warfare.


EU integration from the perspective of the Western Balkans (embassies)

Andreas GJECAJ announces that the embassies in Vienna have cancelled participation in the seminar because of the Ukraine war. He gives a substantive introduction of how war and the Covid pandemic affect everyone. In his contribution, he recalls a fresco on the outer wall of a cathedral in Austria. Three "plagues" are shown there 500 years ago: the plague as an epidemic, the locusts and the Turkish wars. Today, the Covid pandemic, the climate crisis and the war are still considered major plagues. How has the Corona Pandemic changed our work? Can we contribute to the transformation into a "green economy"? What can we do to keep the peace? Pope Francis says about the war in Ukraine: "War is a failure of politics, a shameful capitulation!" Examples from the Western Balkan countries are given in the discussion.


EU integration and conclusions

Christian SAGARTZ, Member of the EU Parliament from Austria, makes a statement: The war is a wake-up call for Europe, hostility and exclusion will not get us anywhere. The EU is incomplete without the countries of the Western Balkans; the EU needs to pick up the pace and integrate people. The negotiations have now been going on for 20 years, something must finally be brought to a conclusion. The EU must get out of government programmes and into budgets. It must reach the minds and hearts of citizens again. A lot of credibility has been lost. The standardisation of roaming charges, which has brought great relief for EU citizens, is cited as an example of tangible benefits.

In the discussion, it is mentioned that there must be a prospect of accession for all countries in the Western Balkans because there is already a constant emigration of young and well-educated people to the EU


Conclusions: Norbert KLEIN and Andreas GJECAJ

  1. The EU needs to reach people's hearts and minds, not just government programmes.
  2. The challenges and questions of the present are very diverse. We are facing 3 major crises: climate change, pandemics, and war.
  3. One experience from the EZA West Balkan seminars is: that no one is just a learner, no one is just a teacher! Only together can we achieve goals
  4. Networking turns out to be extremely important – based on shared values!
  5. The war in Ukraine is currently shaping our thinking and is a terrible experience: bombs are falling in Ukraine, and people are killed.
  6. At the same time, the war is a wake-up call to look at important things and to think about the speed of change. In crises, action and reflection are required.
  7. The "Western Balkans" project will continue at EZA!

It was possible to stay in dialogue despite very difficult conversations - a remarkable success!