The Aspen Institute Germany has focused on developments in the Western Balkans since the early 1990s. In cooperation with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Aspen’s former Executive Director David Anderson initiated the International Commission on the Balkans in 1995 under the leadership of former Belgian Prime Minister Leo Tindemans, which published the report “Unfinished Peace” in 1996, an analysis of the causes of the Balkan conflicts and an independent assessment of the European, American, and UN responses. This high-level international commission was followed by a young leaders study group on the future of the Balkans in addition to several other events with a focus on the region.
Since 2008, Aspen Germany has revived its focus on the Western Balkans, which includes the countries of former Yugoslavia and Albania. In closed-door meetings, the Aspen Institute Germany facilitates an open and honest high-level exchange between former conflict parties to support regional cooperation and dialog, and promote the transformation processes necessary on the path to Euro-Atlantic integration. Our aim is frank exchange on problems, disagreements, successes, and advances in the region among key decision-makers. Aspen Germany also regularly brings together experts and policy-makers working in, on and with the region for exchanges of perspectives, opinions, and assessments. In pursuit of these goals, the Aspen Institute Germany’s Western Balkans Program has different formats: the Aspen Southeast Europe Foreign Ministers’ Conferences; a regular regional dialog; small, off-the-record exchanges, background briefings and discussions; and a policy hub in Berlin for think tanks from the region.
Since 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.
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 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.
Complimentary 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.
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.
2018 – 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)
- Program Director
- Phone: +49 (0) 30 804 890 16
- Program Officer
- Phone: +49 (0) 30 804 890 26
Olga van Zijverden
- Program Officer
- Phone: +49 (0) 30 804 890 36
- Junior Program Officer
- Phone: +49 (0) 30 804 890 46