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Interview with Milena Lazarević: TEN – A Role Model for Cooperation  

30. 06. 2017.

“We see a great potential for TEN and we plan to strengthen it strategically and thematically. We are in the process of developing our strategic program and we believe that the Network could be of great value for regional cooperation and the region’s EU accession process”.

Can you tell us a little something about Think for Europe Network, its purpose, projects, members?

Milena Lazarević, CEP’s Programme Director

We started the network out of a real understanding that the countries of the region have a lot in common, both in terms of their strategic orientation towards EU membership and in terms of problems that we face in the accession process. We started off as three think tanks, not in order to apply for a specific project, but because we truly felt that we could strengthen our work and our impact by adding a strong regional dimension. Projects came only a year or two after we signed our joint agreement. Now we have one think tank member of the Network in each of the six WB countries, and we are proud that each of the members is a strong, renowned and independent think tank, working on multiple issues within the EU integration field.

What is the role of your organization – CEP – within the Network?

As one of the co-founders of the Network, CEP has assumed the role of the Network Secretariat. We agreed early on that the TEN should have a stable secretariat, whereas there should be a governing body – TEN Council – with a rotating presidency. Currently, the Presidency of the Council is performed by our Macedonian member think tank – European Policy Institute – EPI.

Can you tell us how the WeBER –  EC funded project in 6 Western Balkan countries – fits into the TEN context?

WeBER is a perfect example of how the Network works. It was built on a common challenge for all of the countries of the region: Once the EU and SIGMA published a new framework for guiding and assessing the reforms of public administration in the Western Balkans (Principles of Public Administration) we jointly recognized that local actors need to learn about this framework and how to use it to monitor administrative reforms in their countries and even local communities. We also recognized a strong regional dimension and an opportunity to create regional mechanisms for monitoring the progress of the countries in fulfilling these new Principles, comparing how countries fare against each other, but also for facilitating the dialogue within the civil society of the region and between the civil society and the governments on public administration reform. Through WeBER, we have also expanded our network to three new members and we are gradually increasing its capacity, with the support of our EU partner – European Policy Centre (EPC).

What are your plans for the Networks’ future?

We see a great potential for TEN and we plan to strengthen it strategically and thematically. We are in the process of developing our strategic program and we believe that the Network could be of great value for regional cooperation and the region’s EU accession process, especially if we continue to successfully integrate both the civil society and governmental institutions in our projects and initiatives. We realize that each of our countries individually cannot represent an important factor for international actors, but when speaking on behalf of 6 countries, when presenting research which compares those 6 countries and when organizing regional events, we believe we can truly attract more attention to the region, both to its advantages and to its problems.

What lessons and experiences can you share with other CSOs who might be thinking about cross-border cooperation and networking?

Networks and cooperation should be genuine, not be created simply for project purposes. The more genuine the wish to work together is, the easier it will be to overcome challenges and difficulties which are bound to arise from time to time. It takes a lot of work and a lot of patience sometimes, to coordinate and agree among six members, but when a joint interest is realized and pursued, no obstacle is too big.