Bledar Feta and Alexandros Koutras participated in a two-day conference organized by the Hanns Seidel Stiftung in Zagreb, Croatia. This conference was organized in a very crucial moment for the security situation in the EU and its neighborhood because of the war in Ukraine which has far-reaching consequences that impact the state of security affairs in the European Union as much as in Southeastern Europe. Against this background, the series “Discussions on the Future of the EU” dedicated a two-day day conference, bringing together policy makers and experts from both the EU and Southeastern Europe to discuss in depth two very important topics:

§  “Croatia’s Accession to the Schengen Zone – Implications for the EU’s Internal and External Security”: during this panel the discussion was concentrated on the security implications of the Schengen Zone expansion. How will this impact internal security in the EU and what are effects for security at the EU external borders once shifted southwards?

§  “A New Era of Security Policy – The Case of Southeastern Europe since the beginning of the War in Ukraine”: this second panel was focused on the new security architecture of Southeastern Europe. Which threats are imminent? How large is their potential to destabilize the region and which alliances are to be formed to mitigate the negative effects in the new era of security policy?

The researchers of ELIAMEP’s South-East Europe Programme contributed to the discussion through their expertise on the topics under discussion and their long-term research experience in Southeastern Europe. More concretely, in his intervention Bledar Feta talked about the need for more coordinated efforts in order to protect the free movement of citizens in Europe from current and future challenges. According to him “the European zone of free movement has been under stress over the past decade foremost due to the migration crisis and the pandemic travel restrictions with many people seeing the open borders as a vulnerability factor which leave societies exposed to different risks. In this context, many societies are supporting the idea of erecting fences or walls as protection measures, putting in danger the idea of Schengen. If Schengen, one of the greatest European achievements, loses societal support it will be a very bad and sad development”. Commenting on the security developments in the Southeastern Europe, Feta made a special reference to the increased competition between the different international actors for influence in the region. According to him, “the countries of the region are still small fragile democracies and are often exposed to political manipulation. As such, more coordinated reaction is needed to build resilience against the external pressure from malicious actors, as well as more dedication to fulfilling the EU accession criteria”.