On 26 October 2021, the Croatian CEDC Presidency hosted this year’s second meeting of the CEDC Defence Policy Directors, who were joined by their Western Balkans counterparts during the first working session. The meeting was held in Trakošćan, the Republic of Croatia.
The first part of the meeting was dedicated to the evaluation of progress regarding the implementation of the Croatian CEDC Presidency priorities. These comprise building wider regional resilience to disinformation campaigns and fake news, shaping meaningful and strong partnership with the Western Balkans, as well as providing an effective framework for channelled discussions and reaching common ground on the European security and defence issues, with special emphasis on the Strategic Compass, the European Defence Fund and the European Peace Facility.
The Chair, Ms Dunja Bujan Šujster, expressed her contentment with the progress achieved this year, starting with the results of two CEDC Combating Fake News and Disinformation Campaigns Workshops where the CEDC and the Western Balkans experts’ recommendations will hopefully create an incentive for enhanced future cooperation in the StratCom domain. Likewise, the conclusions of the Military Mobility Workshop, built upon the results of last year’s Military Mobility Workshop, emphasized that improving military mobility relies to a large extent on steps taken at the national and regional level. In this regard, sustained future cooperation on military mobility through the CEDC platform remains of the utmost importance.
During the first session, conducted in the CEDC +Western Balkans format, the heads of delegations exchanged their views on the security considerations and risks emerging from a stalled EU enlargement process in the Western Balkans, including hybrid challenges and disinformation campaigns facilitated by the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic, and steps to be taken in order to overcome the EU’s enlargement impasse in order to boost a credible enlargement perspective.
Despite of the most recent setbacks regarding opening of negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia, the CEDC Defence Policy Directors and their Western Balkans counterparts expressed their optimism, as the Strategic Compass has entered a final phase that will enable tailoring strong and effective partnership with the Western Balkans, addressing true needs of the region and hopefully shifting enlargement dynamics.
Noting the growing pro-Russian and pro-Chinese footprint in the region as well as other security challenges, particularly disinformation campaigns, Defence Policy Directors proposed to focus on more efficient information sharing, capacity building and pooling the resources together to complement the EU efforts on tackling disinformation.
In the following session, the CEDC Defence Policy Directors discussed the current issues related to European Union’s security and defence. In that regard, the discussion was cantered around the on-going work on the Strategic Compass across its four baskets, focusing on how it will shape the future EU crisis management tools.
Defence Policy Directors also reflected on the progress in the Austrian led “CBRN SaaS” PESCO project, expressing their contentment with successful developments on each of three strands of this project, especially regarding high added value of EDIDP funding. Also, Defence Policy Directors discussion was focused on ways to translate results of this project into tangible contributions to national and EU capabilities, thus fulfilling PESCO commitments. Prior to handing the CEDC Chairmanship over to the Republic of Austria, a joint CEDC + Western Balkans partners Ministerial meeting will be held in December 2021.