European Western Balkans
European Integration

EWB Interview: Christian Danielsson, Director General for Enlargement at the European Commission

Christian Danielsson; Photo: Delegation of the EU to BiH

This time, European Western Balkans, spoke with Christian Danielsson, Director General for Enlargement at the European Commission.

Danielsson, Swedish diplomat, graduated in Business Administration and Economics at Stockholm School of Economic in 1981. Between the years 2006 and 2008, he was director for Directorate B which was responsible for the three candidate countries Croatia, Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Turkey, and from 2005 until 2008, Head of the Turkey Unit in DG Enlargement. 

In October 2013 Christian Danielsson was appointed Director General for Enlargement at the European Commission in Brussels.

European Western Balkans: Mr. Danielsson thank you for accepting our invitation for the interview. We will start with a question about one country that will be asked by every our reader – Macedonian one. What do you think about recent events and the crisis in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia?

Christian Danielsson: I’m very concerned about what happened in Kumanovo. The EU condemns any form of violence and I would like to offer our deep condolences to the families of the people who lost their lives. Commissioner Hahn has already called on all involved parties and actors to collaborate in clarifying what has happened, who is responsible for this, and to act united on this issue. It is also important that this criminal act is properly investigated and does not inflame inter-ethnic tensions.

At the same time, however, we have been clear that these events should not distract from the very serious internal political situation in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. The main government and opposition parties need to engage constructively in political dialogue, facilitated by three Members of the European Parliament. The underlying systemic issues about rule of law, media freedom, elections etc. – which the Commission has pointed out in its Progress Reports – must be addressed. There must be political accountability, to restore trust in the institutions. All allegations of potential wrongdoing should be immediately, independently and transparently investigated by the relevant authorities.

EWB: How would you evaluate the Macedonian high level dialogue and what are the results of this process?

CD: The Dialogue, launched in March 2012, provided an impetus to the process of reforms. While there has been no meeting of the High Level Accession Dialogue since 2013, the work on the technical level continues. It is important that the inclusive and transparent process in taking forward the reforms is maintained.

EWB: What are your thoughts about the European integration process of Serbia and waiting for opening the first chapters?

CD: Over the past few years, Serbia has taken decisive steps to end what was basically political and economic isolation. Serbia has embarked on the road of European Integration. EU accession negotiations, launched last year, are now underway. The bilateral meetings with the Serbian authorities for all negotiating chapters were concluded in March 2015 and we are currently preparing the reports for the Council.

Overall I have to say that Serbia has demonstrated good progress so far, but more needs to be done on rule of law chapters and on chapter 35, dealing with the normalisation of relations with Kosovo. These are priority chapters for all EU Member States.

I would very much like to see the first chapters to be opened soon, and Serbia can count on our support. This process can only be led by Serbia who needs to deliver. The pace of negotiations will depend on progress in the key areas I have already mentioned. What is also crucial for the country is to continue building its credibility, showing a tangible commitment towards its obligations and to the ultimate goal: accession to the EU.

EWB: What do you think about the situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina after SAA?

CD: I am glad to see a new positive momentum in EU relations with Bosnia and Herzegovina. We welcomed last February’s written commitment and responded by putting the Stabilisation and Association Agreement into force as of 1 June 2015. Now, the key priority for the country’s leaders is to agree on and implement an initial agenda for reforms. The main focus should be socio-economic, rule of law and good governance as well as public administration reform. At the same time, it will be essential to establish a coordination mechanism on EU matters.

We are ready to support Bosnia and Herzegovina in this exercise. Commissioner Hahn has already visited Sarajevo twice in his young mandate. That shows EU’s commitment. Commissioner Hahn intends to come back to Sarajevo as soon as possible to co-chair a high level roundtable to finalise that initial reform agenda. The next stage would be its implementation.

EWB: How would you describe the political situation in Kosovo? Is Kosovo ready for the further integration process?

CD: Kosovo continues to face a number of important challenges. Following the lengthy period between the elections last June and the formation of a government last December, the authorities have to address the difficult economic situation, and in particular the very high unemployment, especially among the young. Kosovo needs to become a place where the economy can grow, where businesses want to invest, and where people have a perspective for themselves and their children. Closely related to this is the rule of law; Kosovo needs to continue fighting organised crime and corruption. It needs to engage in public administration reform to ensure the country and its citizens are served by an efficient and effective civil service. And it needs to continue to make progress in the normalisation of its relations with Serbia.

As regards integration, Kosovo has successfully negotiated a Stabilisation and Association Agreement with the EU, which we are currently discussing with our Member States. We hope it can be signed and concluded this year and enter into force early in 2016. We also expect Kosovo to send us a report on its progress towards visa liberalisation. I look forward to reading this document confirming Kosovo has made substantial progress in meeting the relevant criteria so that we can successfully conclude the process in the near future.

EWB: Mr. Danielsson thank you for your detailed answers and your time. We wish you success in your work in Directorate of European Commission and primarily in the field of European integration of the Western Balkans countries.

Authors: Nikola S. Ristić and N. T. Štiplija

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