On November 19, 2020 the National Committee on American Foreign Policy (NCAFP), Nizami Ganjavi International Center (NGIC), and Foundation Shared Societies and Values Sarajevo (FSSV) convened as part of a series of targeted conversations with the aim of examining critical issues facing the Western Balkans. Following onto the success of a public discussion held in September 2020, the organizers felt it would be appropriate to focus on reactions to the European Commission’s Economic and Investment Plan for the Western Balkans (published October 2020), and the expansion of the so-called ‘Mini Schengen’ zone. Both have gained significant buy-in and external support, including ‘Mini Schengen’s’ prominent role in the economic normalization agreements signed in Washington in September 2020. Furthermore, each has the potential to further regional ambitions toward EU accession.
Not without detractors, both the EU’s new plan, and efforts to expand ‘Mini Schengen’ spur concerns about the creation of parallel, rather than complementary structures vis-à-vis the EU. Convened to address this key concern, an invited panel of distinguished former officials from the United States and the region zeroed in on whether these developments chart an accession course like that of the Visegrád Group; major economic concerns that still need to be addressed; and how can the EU, United States and other external actors continue to provide sustainable support to the regional economy.