“In a context of deteriorating expectations of the EU candidate countries towards the enlargement process, the refugee crisis in the Balkans has contributed to broadening the communication channels, reconnecting the WB leaders with the EU institutions at large”, said CEI Secretary General, Giovanni Caracciolo di Vietri, during his opening address at the meeting on Friday 6 May in Trieste, where the implications of the Balkan Route on the EU enlargement process were discussed.
The event was organised by the Osservatorio Balcani e Caucaso (OBC) in cooperation with the CEI and the European Commission - DG NEAR. Luisa Chiodi, Director of the OBC, affirmed that  "The refugee crisis brought the Balkans back to the centre of the EU policy after years of enlargement fatigue and marginalisation of the region's countries in the EU agenda". "But although the crisis brought media attention back to the region, it has also been a devastating emergency from the humanitarian point of view, which obviously has not helped the ongoing programmes of economic renewal", Chiodi added, recalling that these were countries with fragile institutions, still recovering from the '90-ies wars. "We are talking about more than 70,000 internally displaced refugees within a region that exports economic migrants itself", Chiodi added.
The answers of the institutions and civil society at European and regional levels, as well as its long-term effects were at the centre of the seminar.

The need for the principle of solidarity to function was underlined by the representative of the DG NEAR, Giulio Venneri, who highlighted that Southeast Europe was connected with the EU not just through close economic ties but also from a political point of view. "The EU is all of us, this is our future", Venneri said, underlining that crises of this kind could not be managed without the principle of solidarity prevailing over that of national sovereignty.
"As a European, it is embarrassing to see that 28 EU countries are not able to decide together about welcoming and distributing 600,000 refugees, while countries such as Lebanon alone are hosting more than a million", said Gianluca Rocco, IOM coordinator for the Western Balkans. From his front-line observatory, Rocco further added how it was unlikely for the new routes to develop and that Italy was once again likely to become the main route.
Representatives of the Centre for Human Rights of Belgrade and of the Macedonian Young Lawyers Association reported on experience in their countries regarding the needs of humanitarian support, legal protection of the rights of asylum seekers, lack of awareness of the basic methodology to deal with massive inflows of migrants and the impact of the contradictory approaches of the bordering EU Member States on the Balkan transit countries.
In the course of the following debate, attended by a number of representatives from the Public Administration, Local and Regional Authorities and CSOs, Gianfranco Schiavone of ICS Trieste underlined that the refugees ended up as a mere instrument of political confrontation among the EU Member Countries, instead of thinking of common solutions. "The asylum requests in Southeast Europe will grow. Consequently, these countries need lasting support in the years to come", he added. "The Italian experience of decentralised hospitality concerted by the State, Municipalities and CSOs as an alternative to the immigrants rally in provisional camps, can certainly inspire innovative solutions suitable for implementation in the Western Balkans", concluded Schiavone.

for more information: poli@cei.int