In May 1989, President George H.W. Bush spoke in Mainz, Germany about the dream of a “Europe whole and free” just months before the fall of the Berlin Wall and the first moves to extend the reach of a democratic, pluralistic, united Europe. Today, the idea of a “Europe whole and free” continues to guide U.S. policy toward Europe and Europe’s vision for its own integration. Aspen Germany’s Europe Program is dedicated to this vision and to completing the map of a Europe based on democracy, freedom and human dignity. First and foremost this includes supporting the path to Europeanization and Euro-Atlantic integration of the Western Balkans; tackling the challenges to the EU as its strives to increase its role as a global actor; and consolidating the European Union as a community of values even as it faces new threats from outside and inside the Union.
The Europe program consists of three pillars: the Western Balkans Program, the Visegrad 4-Germany Forum and the Aspen Initiative for Europe.
Regional DialogSince 2009, Aspen Germany’s Western Balkans Program’s Regional Dialog has brought together high-level decision makers, politicians, diplomats, and civil society experts from the Western Balkans, the U.S., Germany, the EU, NATO, and other international and regional organizations to discuss the region’s current and future challenges. At exclusive closed-door conferences, selected participants can exchange views, and discuss differences and commonalities in an off-the-record setting. Supported by expert policy papers, discussions aim at bridging differences that still exist, identifying common challenges and ideas, and developing mutually acceptable solutions and recommendations. Topics discussed include: Euro-Atlantic integration and the reform processes; non-traditional security threats; the fight against organized crime and corruption; the role of external actors in the region; economic development; energy security; regional cooperation; rule of law; and democratization.
Policy Hub for Think TanksOne of the challenges for policy organizations from the Western Balkans is a disconnect to the European Union. All too often, pro-European voices interacting with their EU counterparts struggle to step beyond local paradigms. This deepens the perception in the EU that the Western Balkans is a problematic neighbor who, in the future, might become a free-rider on EU financial assistance without contributing to solutions for wider European problems. Genuine Europeanization cannot hold if the EU and the region are not speaking constructively about common goals. In order to bridge this gap, Aspen Germany’s initiative seeks to establish closer, targeted, regular contact between Western Balkan think tanks and their EU member states’ counterparts. In cooperation with the Open Society Foundations, the Aspen Institute Germany functions as a policy hub in Berlin for select policy research organizations from the Western Balkans. Aspen Germany supports these organizations in identifying potential local partners in Berlin, facilitates advocacy visits, and assists with visit preparations. The idea is to help Western Balkan policy organizations better understand the Berlin policy scene, identify opportunities for collaboration with local organizations, and improve effectiveness of their political outreach and advocacy. By forging stronger contacts between players in Western Europe, organizations from the Western Balkans can more effectively take part in debates affecting their region. In its first 1.5 years, Aspen’s Western Balkans policy hub organized and facilitated a total of fifteen visits, hosting more than twenty think tanks from six countries and connecting them with leading policy-makers at the Federal Chancellery, the Foreign Office, other Federal Ministries, the German Bundestag, Berlin-based think tanks and research organizations, as well as individual experts and renowned journalists.
Background DiscussionsComplimentary to the core events of its Western Balkans Program Aspen Germany facilitates background discussions and increased exchange among MPs, political advisors from the Bundestag, and select experts from government and civil society like Berlin-based think tanks, political foundations and journalists. Topics of discussion vary from summit evaluations, current regional developments, and exclusive dinners with select politicians, including heads of states and government.
Aspen Southeast Europe Foreign Ministers ConferencesThe first Aspen Southeast Europe Foreign Ministers’ Conference took place in December 2008. Behind closed doors, top politicians and senior officials from Germany and the U.S. met with foreign ministers from Southeast Europe including, for the first time, the Serbian Foreign Minister and the Acting Foreign Minister from Kosovo. In subsequent years, Foreign Ministers from the region have gathered annually in Berlin for a regional meeting together with their U.S., European, and German colleagues. Since 2010, Aspen’s Southeast Europe Foreign Ministers’ Conferences have been organized in cooperation with the German Federal Foreign Office and an EU member state’s Embassy in Berlin. Since 2010, partners have included the Austrian Embassy in Berlin and then Foreign Ministers Dr. Guido Westerwelle and Dr. Michael Spindelegger; the Hungarian Embassy in Berlin and then Foreign Ministers Dr. Guido Westerwelle and Dr. János Martonyi; the British Embassy and then Foreign Ministers Dr. Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Philip Hammond; the Italian Embassy and then Foreign Ministers Dr. Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Paolo Gentiloni; as well as the Czech Embassy and Foreign Ministers Sigmar Gabriel and Lubomír Zaorálek. In 2014, Foreign Ministers Dr. Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Philip Hammond used the Aspen Foreign Ministers’ Conference as a platform to present a joint German-British initiative to revitalize the reform process in Bosnia and Herzegovina. In his opening speech of 2017, Foreign Minister Gabriel emphasized Germany’s commitment to the region and revealed Germany’s plans of setting up additional funds to further support the Western Balkans.
Publications2018 – Rule of Law Reforms in the Western Balkans (PDF)
2017 – A European Future for the Western Balkans (PDF)
2016 – Democratization in the Western Balkans (PDF)
2015 – EU Enlargement and Regional Cooperation – Identifying the Next Steps (PDF)
2014 – EU Enlargement – Between Conditionality, Progress, and Enlargement Fatigue (PDF)
The Visegrad 4 – Germany Forum is a joint project of the Aspen Institute Germany and the Aspen Institute Central Europe launched in 2017. In Germany, the V4 is often perceived through the perspective of political differences such as on migration or European values, while the strong economic ties that link Germany with all four countries seem to be taken for granted or go unnoticed by the public. At the same time, the V4 countries strive to extend their relationships with Germany economically, by gradually moving from serving as low added value production space to include more research and development, and politically in particular within the EU. This forum has therefore focused on identifying common interests for strengthening V4-German cooperation and has developed recommendations which can be found here.
The Aspen Initiative for Europe (AIfE) is a joint endeavor of the seven European Aspen Institutes that aims to pool the national resources and strengths of each partner to promote common values and shared ideas. Recognizing the growing divisions within Europe, this initiative is an effort to address Europe’s challenges together and to increase cooperation among the seven European partners to facilitate debates on the future of Europe and to contribute to the emergence of a new generation of Europeans who share a commitment to a better functioning EU based on the principles of liberal democracy and open dialog. Core projects of this initiative include the Aspen European Strategy Group, a seminar for young European leaders as well as increased collaboration in the fields of good governance, European cohesion, the future of the EU, and the challenges of digital transformation for Europe.