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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Against the backdrop of uncertainties and insecurities that currently define our world, Aspen Germany develops strategic foresight processes with the goal of anticipating future challenges and opportunities for the future of Europe. In the format of individual workshops, Aspen Germany brings 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 might 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.
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.
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.
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