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 vision of a “Europe whole and free” continues to guide Aspen Germany’s Europe Program in pursuing the completion 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; anticipating and addressing the EU’s challenges as it strives to increase its role as a global actor; and defending the European Union as a community of values even as it faces new threats from outside and inside.
In this spirit, Aspen Germany’s Europe Program hosts closed-door meetings to facilitate for open and honest exchange between decision-makers and experts, and public debates on priority issues. The Western Balkans, for example, have been a focal point of Aspen Germany since the early 1990s. Here, Aspen Germany has been facilitating a comprehensive dialog to support regional cooperation and the transformation processes necessary on the path to Euro-Atlantic integration.
Western Balkans Regional Dialog
Since 2009, Aspen Germany’s Regional Dialog brings together high-level decision makers, politicians, diplomats, and civil society experts from the Western Balkans, but also from 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.
Berlin Policy Hub for Think Tanks from the Western Balkans
One 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 take hold if the EU and the region are not speaking constructively about common goals. In order to bridge this gap, Aspen’s Berlin Policy Hub seeks to establish closer, targeted, and more regular contact between Western Balkan think tanks and their EU member states’ counterparts. Supported by the Open Society Foundations and the German Federal Press Agency, 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 their preparation and optimization. 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. Throughout its first two years of operation, Aspen’s Berlin Policy Hub organized and facilitated a total of 19 visits, hosting more than twenty think tanks from all of the Western Balkans Six countries, 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.
An overview of the Policy Briefs that have been prepared by some of the participating organizations in the framework of this project can be found here. The responsibility for the content of these documents lies solely with their authors, they do not necessarily reflect the official position or opinion of Aspen Institute Germany.
Civil Society & Think Tank Forum Berlin 2021
Since 2014, the Berlin Process aims to support the Western Balkan countries’ EU accession process by organizing annual summits throughout Europe. Their goal is to strengthen regional cooperation and facilitate for a continuous dialogue among these countries as well as with EU member states. This year, the Berlin Process Summit is hosted by the German Government. The Aspen Institute Germany, in cooperation with the Southeast Europe Association and with support of the German Federal Foreign Office, will organize what has always been an integral part of this process: the Civil Society & Think Tank Forum. As tradition would have it, the forum will consist of two conferences. On June 01-02, 2021 the “Civil Society & Think Tank Forum I: Road to Berlin” will convene experts, think tankers, and civil society representatives from the Western Balkan countries to jointly debate a wide range of challenges in the region, exchange best practices, and develop concrete policy recommendations. These will be put in the spotlight and discussed with government representatives throughout the second conference, the “Civil Society & Think Tank Forum II: Berlin 2021”, which will coincide with the Berlin Process Summit. Due to the pandemic, the Civil Society & Think Tank Forum will have to take place in an online format.
Western Balkans Background Discussions
Complimenting the aforementioned core events of its Western Balkans Program, Aspen Germany facilitates for 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 conversations with select politicians, including heads of states and government.
Aspen Southeast Europe Foreign Ministers Conferences
The 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.
The Future of Europe
The Future of Europe: Strategic Autonomy
In recent years, the world has undergone rapid changes and became more unsettled and complex. The EU has struggled to find its role in this uncertain time. Therefore, Ursula von der Leyen’s Commission developed an innovative strategic plan to respond to new challenges and strengthen the EU’s role and values in different political areas. The Aspen Institute Germany will take a closer look at the “European Strategic Autonomy” by organizing four individual public discussions with leaders throughout Europe, focusing on (1) economy and trade, (2) security, (3) the green deal, and (4) digitalization and technology.
The Future of Europe: Strategic Foresight
Against the backdrop of uncertainties and insecurities that currently define our world, the Aspen Institute Germany has conducted a strategic foresight process with the goal of anticipating challenges and opportunities for the future of Europe. In the format of individual workshops, Aspen Germany has brought together European experts to conceptualize, develop, and evaluate different scenarios that could define our future in order to track where we are heading and develop policy that will steer us into the right direction. The results listed below are published and distributed among policymakers throughout Europe in order to enrich their strategic foresight in today’s policy making.
Aspen Strategic Foresight: “The Future of Europe” (December 2020)
Visegrad 4 – Germany Forum
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.
Aspen Initiative for Europe
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.