Western Balkans | Reviving Rural Areas & Moving Towards EU Integration

Photo: Balkan Rural Development Network

By Aleksandra Todorovska

This week the second Balkan Rural Parliament took place in Ohrid, North Macedonia. Organised by the Balkan Rural Development Network, the Balkan Rural Parliament gives a voice to rural communities in the making of rural development policy for the Western Balkans. For EU accession countries, rural development is a key driver to accelerate the process of EU integration. The Parliament highlighted the need to strengthen mutual trust on every level between people and national institutions, as well as between the Western Balkans and the EU to build equal partnerships, writes Aleksandra Todorovska.

A major outcome of this event will be the Declaration of the Second Balkan Rural Parliament. This document, which stipulates the concerns and aspirations of rural people and what these imply for action by rural communities and for government policies, will be shared here in the coming days.

The two-day programme of the second Balkan Rural Parliament included a contribution from ARC2020 president Hannes Lorenzen, “EU CAP reforms in the new programme period 2021-2027”, which he prepared with Matteo Metta, CAP Policy Analyst for ARC2020. Check out slide 18 for a snapshot of the state of play of rural development in the CAP negotiations so far!  

More than 60 various stakeholders from rural areas of the Western Balkan countries, including representatives of the civil society, Managing Authorities from the WB countries, national governments and relevant donors, gathered in Ohrid, N. Macedonia, on June 15 and 16, for the 2nd Balkan Rural Parliament, organized by the Balkan Rural Development Network (BRDN), with financial support of SWG – Regional Rural Development Standing Working Group in South Eastern Europe.

Despite the presence of the Western Balkan stakeholders, the 2nd Balkan Rural Parliament was virtually attended by many important actors in the rural development sector among which representatives of the European Commission and relevant EU organizations, who joined the discussions on the challenges and actions which can be taken for improvement of the well-being of the WB rural communities.

Inspired by the national rural parliaments, which have been implemented in Europe for more than a decade, the Balkan Rural Parliament is already taking its place in the policy-making process for rural development of the Western Balkans as one of the basic tools for representing rural communities, through national networks and the Balkan Rural Development Network.

Photo: Balkan Rural Development Network

“The Western Balkan countries are in the process of EU integration and the rural development plays a significant role in the EU accession and it’s one of the major driving forces that can accelerate this process. We need to invest in strengthening of the mutual trust on every level among people, institutions at national level, but also impowering the trust between the Western Balkans and European Union to build equal partnerships.

“There is a large cultural and socio-economic gap between urban and rural areas and existing resources in the rural areas and social capital segment needs investment in the infrastructure, education, health, business development, environment, research, innovation, digitalization. However, the need for investment in rural areas is not always about money and it’s not limited to only these sectors, but also investing in the capacities and skills development of local communities and civil society organizations, particularly youth and women, as potential assets in the rural human capital.

“The Western Balkan values can only enrich the values of the European Union. We urge the European Union to give active support to governments in making the reforms and to provide an effective support in strengthening the capacities of the civil society organizations and networks at national and regional level in the rural development processes.

“Today and in the future, BRP is to sustain as a tool for advocacy and lobbying for the rural communities, as well as media for promotion, visibility and communication of the common rural development issues, and exchange of experience and knowhow,” said Petar Gjorgievski, the President of BRDN, in his welcoming speech.

Photo: Balkan Rural Development Network

The two-day program was enriched with field visits organized in the surrounding area of Ohrid and Struga, where the participants had the opportunity to see some interesting sights and potentials for rural tourism in the region and hear some inspiring stories from local entrepreneurs.

Finally, yet importantly, the usual expectations of the Balkan Rural Parliament are to develop a set of strong stand points regarding the concerns and aspirations of the rural people and what these imply for action by the rural communities, for the policies of the governments, in the form of Declaration.

Photo: Balkan Rural Development Network

Aleksandra Todorovska is project manager for the Rural Development Network of North Macedonia, which is a member of the Balkan Rural Development Network.

The Balkan Rural Development Network (BRDN) is a regional network of NGO-based rural development networks in the Western Balkans (WB), with its seat in N. Macedonia, bringing together the rural development networks from North Macedonia, Serbia, Montenegro, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo and Albania. The interest for starting BRDN was a recognized need by the rural development networks in the Balkans to establish a platform through which they could regularly exchange information, experience and knowledge, network and cooperate together in order to increase their effectiveness in the work with their constituents on national level, but also to enhance their influence in the rural development at regional and EU level. 

The Declaration of the Second Balkan Rural Parliament will be published here in the coming days. 

In the meantime, you can download Hannes Lorenzen’s contribution to the Second Balkan Rural Parliament here


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