Heading towards the Western Balkans – Report from the 1st EU Business Law Forum

Balázs Horváthy, associate professor, Széchenyi István University, Faculty of Law, member of CES

The Centre for European Studies (CES) of Faculty of Law and Political Sciences of Széchenyi István University launched a biennial conference series in order to address recent developments in business law of the European Union and the member states. The first edition of the conference – 1st EU Business Law Forum – The Influence and Effects of EU Business Law in the Western Balkans – was held this summer between 15–16 June 2017 at the Faculty in Györ. The Forum was performed within the research stream of the ‘Jean Monnet Module on EU Business Law’ (EUBLAW) project funded by the European Commission’s Erasmus+ Programme.

The main reason behind the specific topic chosen for the conference was the 15 years anniversary of the Copenhagen European Council meeting held in December 2002. This was momentous not only for the accession of the Central and Eastern European countries, but also for the future enlargement of the European Union, as the European Council opened a wide window on the Western Balkan and laid down the stabilisation and association policy objectives of the European Union towards the countries of the region. The Conclusions of the meeting confirmed the status of the Western Balkan countries as potential candidates and emphasised its determination to support the efforts of these countries to move closer to the European Union. One year later in 2003, the Thessaloniki Agenda for the Western Balkans assured the full support of the EU Member States to the endeavours of the region to consolidate democracy, stability and promote economic development as well. The Agenda gave priority to further liberalisation of trade relations and urged the Western Balkan countries to accelerate the momentum of structural reforms, promote good governance and create a business environment that stimulates economic activity and foreign investment.

From the perspective of the 15 years that have gone, it is clearly visible that the potential candidates have a significant trade relationship with the European Union now and their business environment as well as market conditions are progressively becoming more stable and transparent. At this time, Montenegro and Serbia are already under negotiation for EU membership, but also Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, FYR of Macedonia and Kosovo have the prospect of joining the negotiations in the near future. The accession process is enhanced also by harmonisation of the legal orders of the potential candidate countries with the framework of acquis of the European Union. The converging tendency of laws is specifically addressed in the approximation clauses of the Stabilisation and Association Agreements concluded by the Western Balkan countries with the European Union. The approximation clauses require the candidate countries to make their existing and future legislation gradually compatible to the EU law and to ensure the proper implementation thereof.

This make the scholarly discussion about the accession of the Western Balkan countries topical and it was the main motivation for organizing a conference this year. The conference was devoted to identify the relevant developments of this new enlargement process and shed light on its legal, political, economic and social implications. The first day the Forum was opened by a round-table discussion that gave the chance to explore the legal environment of business opportunities in Central Eastern European and Western Balkan countries. András M. Horváth (Kajtár Takács Hegymegi-Barakonyi Baker & McKenzie, Budapest) and Csaba Pigler (Nagy & Trócsányi, Budapest) shared their views and experiences on this topic, and the discussion was chaired by Prof. László Milassin (Centre for European Studies).

The second day the plenary session of the conference continued with the key-note lectures. Marko Babić (University of Warsaw) scrutinized the transitional reforms taken place in the Balkan states, Dragan Gajin (Doklestic Repic & Gajin, Beograd) assessed the implementation of the EU Internal Market Law in the Western Balkan countries, and Éva Lukács Gellérné (ELTE Faculty of Law, Budapest) examined what challenges the free movement of persons might pose for the Western Balkan region. Subsequently, individual papers have been presented in research sessions. The panel concerning the EU internal market law (“EU Internal Market from national perspectives”) addressed the status of the state owned companies, competition policy, consumer policy and IP rights. In the first session another panel was devoted to discover the financial market harmonization (“Harmonizing the financial markets”), uncovering the current challenges of the EU insolvency law, EU insurance, financial clearing system and the potential risks of the foreign currency credits in Europe. Within the second session the participants presented papers in areas of EU external trade law (“External aspects of the EU Single Market Law“) and a parallel panel looked into certain procedural issues (“New directions of dispute settlements”) of EU business law.

The above report shows evidently that the conference offered the opportunity to discuss a variety of topics relating to the business law of the European Union and its implications in the Western Balkan region. Moreover, this event established a real Forum, which has successfully brought together the perspectives of legal practitioners and academics and also enabled the participants to widen their professional networks. The papers of the conference will be published later in a book within the ‘Jean Monnet Module on EU Business Law’ (EUBLAW).