Civil Society, Democracy and European Integration

On 15 March 2007, AGENDA Institute and MJAFT Foundation jointly organized the lecture on “Civil Society, Democracy and European Integration”, in the framework of EU Lecture Series.

The guest speaker was Mr. Pavol Demes, is since 2000 the Director for Central and Eastern Europe of the German Marshall Fund of the United States with a seat in Bratislava, Slovakia. He was former Minister of International Relations in the Government of the Slovak Republic and also the Foreign Policy Advisor of the President of the Slovak Republic during the years 1993-97.

Mr. Pavol Demes claimed himself to be a practitioner and not a politician. He was former Foreign Minister in Slovakia and a counselor of the President of Slovakia. During this period he had the time to work and behave as a diplomat that could make policies regarding the integration of Slovakia. A long way had to be run and many people needed to be convinced he said as regards the European burocrats. In fact one of the ways he had found in order to attract Europeans to Slovakia was rewriting the Slovakian history in short. He claimed that Europe at the moment that he was speaking was celebrating in Berlin its 50th anniversary, coinciding as well with the Berlin Declaration signed for this purpose. The European Union had itself done a long way from the sixth founder countries to nowadays 27. It is difficult now to take decisions within the Union. This on the other hand increases the work that must be done by the countries still aiming at being members of the European Union. The case of Albania still remains a particular one he said. The European Union is stuffed with high burocracy procedures at all levels. We cannot fight with but accept the fact, try to know it as good as it might be possible and than just deal with it. This is a common problem faced by all countries in the Union without excluding any of them. Another important ingredient common for the EU and the country which wants to be part of the Union is the Will. On one hand is the measurable will that Albania must show in the face of the Union, to get than help to enter, on the other hand is the will shown by the EU to accept other members. As even mentioned from other guest the EU at the moment has a problem of absorption capacity which has nothing to do directly with the countries aiming the membership. The EU is facing internal problems that start with the refusal of the Constitution by France and than Holland.

Many changes had occurred during these years since 1998 and still in Albania seems that this in not enough. In fact is far from being enough. He said that for the countries aspiring the EU club, compatibility, as the most important element of all must be pushed forward at all levels. The economy, politics and the social life together with the civil society should rise together and flourish at the same speed and volume. We must forget about being sovereign or impressing the rest of Europeans with our long and glorious history and we must work harder and together for the economic standards and the rest.

One great characteristic of the Albanian political system is the existence of many parties. In this way people feel represented and the power is not possessed from only one political force.

Than he emphasized the role of NGOs which can be “Control” or “Collaborative”. Working in the between asks a high level of self control in order to maintain the equilibrium. One of the most important elements that the NGOs must watch is the functioning of the market. The internal market is not working by itself, there are well defined rules which intend to preserve it from malfunctioning activities. Though, for a NGO observe the functioning of the market is a very difficult job and only few can do it, but on the other hand this is very helpful for the society. So this is another element that needs to be improved in Albania. NGOs can promote the European values and try to educate

For a country to be accepted in a club, it needs to have allies, or to make them. So far Albania needs Member States to support its entrance in the club. Also its external relations are an important factor that makes a country believable in the external eyes. No country with diplomatic problems will be accepted within the Union.

One of the point the strongest that a country must sell to others is get into the field and convince the European arena that you are there, important ready to offer something that they would want to buy. First Mr. Demes suggested the production of a short history of Albania. It is impossible he said to find in whatever shop a short history of Albania to be read in a two hours trip in plane. Secondly get into the market with our comparative advantage. Most of the countries in the EU are different from each other but all of them have attempted to sell at the beginning a product being it historical, cultural, economical or inventive as their main comparative advantage. Albania should give a strong bust to its culture, art and personalities as to be represented as an Albanian image.

After this inspiring presentation the floor was open to questions and comments. One of the questions that were most commented had to do with NGOs if all of them in Slovakia agreed with the European Union entrance?? Mr. Demes said that all were coherent in their thoughts about the EU. A common work had to be done together. The promotion of European values was a common goal divided among civil society promoters and diplomatic bodies doing their job in Brussels and elsewhere. If the situation is not such and doubts about the integration start to rise than everything becomes more problematic and difficult to push forward.

Than the question about democratization and how important is for a country be such?? He answered very convinced that if Slovakia was not democratic it could never reach the levels it has, it could never be part of the European Union.

There were about 20 people from different social groups. The participants were representatives from government, civil society, media, diplomatic corps and students.

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