European Western Balkans: We would like to start this interview with a difficult question. How would you asses the current situation in Macedonia? Macedonia is not moving forward on its path towards EU. What should be done to move it forward?
Genoveva Ruiz Calavera: I am deeply worried about the latest developments in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. Commissioner Hahn and High Representative / Vice-President Mogherini, as well as Members of the European Parliament Eduard Kukan, Knut Fleckenstein and Ivo Vajgl, have been very clear – all leaders of the country, including the President, must respect the outcome of the recent elections. In a democracy, one must acknowledge parliamentary majorities, even if one doesn’t like the results. The democratic process must be let to run its course. In addition, all actors must refrain from fuelling any form of inter-ethnic tensions, negative rhetoric or incitement to violence. We expect the political leaders, including the new government, to implement all parts of the Pržino agreement and the Urgent Reform Priorities in order to bring the country back onto its EU path. This is what its citizens want and deserve. We look forward to working together with a new government to make it happen.
EWB: Serbia’s alignment with the CFSP is decreasing. Is that good for a country which is candidate country? How would you asses this fact?
GRC: As a candidate country, Serbia has committed to progressively aligning, by the time of accession, with the EU Common Foreign and Security Policy. Alignment rate goes beyond numbers but it does mean increasingly putting EU interests first.
Serbia is making steady progress towards its strategic goal of EU membership. Its EU perspective is firm and real and we work closely with Serbia, as partners and friends, in addressing common challenges– migration, economic inequality, threats of terrorism – and preserving peace and stability in the region. In this context, Serbia’s active participation in EU civil and military crisis management missions, including common security and defence policy operations, is very appreciated.
EWB: Although Serbia is making progress in opening negotiation chapters, some of them are not opened still because of the political consequences of the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue. What do you think, is the dialogue going in the right direction
GRC: There is no political blockage in Serbia’s EU accession negotiations. We are on good track. We have already opened eight chapters and closed two of them. Member States started discussion on another one mid-January. Serbia has also been invited to prepare the ground for several other chapters and is carefully assessing its positions before transmitting them to the EU. All those steps have serious implications and take time. This is normal. What is key, however, is the quality of the reforms behind the opening and closing of the chapters: delivering rule of law and a thriving market economy for the benefit of Serbian citizens. Serbia and Kosovo have committed to the normalisation of their relations and this is part of the negotiations framework with Serbia. I am confident that further progress will be made this year, for Serbia and Kosovo’s better future.
EWB: Are the nationalistic tensions between the countries good for their relations? What should be done to avoid them?
GRC: Escalation of nationalist rhetoric in the Western Balkans, or elsewhere is never conducive to improving relations. We have suffered the dramatic and fratricidal consequences of two world wars and shall never forget it. It for this reason that we built the European Union, around shared values of respect, good neighbourly and partnership relations, looking towards the future rather than towards the past. Likewise, the EU accession process for the Western Balkans is based on those shared values. It is also a strategic investment in peace, security, prosperity, and stability in Europe. This requires joint, sincere efforts from all sides to resolve open issues through constructive bilateral dialogue and mutual respect, thus preparing the ground for a shared and cooperative future.
EWB: Are the Western Balkan countries using IPA funds properly? Who is the leader among those countries?
GRC: As you know, a mid-term evaluation of IPA II is now being carried out, together with all other EU external action instruments. IPA II is a performance-oriented instrument and is evaluated not only on the basis of how it is managed (budget execution, for example) but also according to the results achieved. It foresees that a performance reward will be granted to one or more beneficiaries on the basis of different elements, in particular on the progress made according to accession criteria and on the basis of the quality of implementation of financial assistance; i.e. the latter will be measured on the basis of indicators and relevant targets set in the Indicative Strategy Papers. This reward will be considered for the first time in the course of 2017.
EWB: Montenegro has opened 24 and closed two negotiation chapters. Serbia has opened six of them. Is it realistic to expect that Serbia will reach success of Montenegro soon?
GRC: Accession negotiations are not a race between candidate countries. Each one should make progress at its own rhythm. At the moment, we can see that the accession negotiations with Serbia are gathering pace: there are actually eight chapters currently opened (including six since July) and two provisionally closed. More are in the pipeline and I am confident that further progress will be made in the coming months.
EWB: What are the key challenges of Montenegro on its road to the EU? Is it administrative capacity or corruption or something else?
GRC: Montenegro is a country with a clear European perspective. The current political situation is complex with the opposition choosing to boycott the Parliament. Inclusive dialogue is crucial for Montenegro for the modernisation of the country and we expect all Montenegrin politicians to engage in constructive discussions. Montenegro is the frontrunner of the EU integration process with legislative and institutional reforms well underway but there are of course certain challenges. More concrete progress is needed in many areas, most notably on the rule of law where a credible track record needs to be created. I look forward to Montenegro taking ownership of the reforms and moving forward on the EU integration path.
EWB: Among Western Balkan 6, Kosovo is the only one without visa liberalisation. It does not seem that the border demarcation with Montenegro is directly connected with this issue. Is that the only one? What Kosovo should done to unblock the process of visa liberalisation?
GRC: We are fully aware of the importance of visa liberalisation for the people of Kosovo. In May 2016, the European Commission has issued a proposal to liberalise visas for Kosovo. It specifies that Kosovo needs to ratify the border agreement with Montenegro and strengthen its track record in the fight against organised crime and corruption. Since the Commission’s proposal, we have seen clear progress on the track record of high level corruption and organised crime investigations. It is therefore important that Kosovo ratifies the border demarcation agreement with Montenegro so that the Commission can give its green light to the European Parliament and Council. It is our joint aim to make visa liberalisation a reality for the people of Kosovo as soon as possible.
EWB: In which way the International Monitoring Operation Management Board, established beginning of February, will contribute to the monitoring of the process of forming the vetting bodies, as well as the re-evaluation of all judges and prosecutors within the Albanian judiciary?
GRC: The IMO Management Board has been set up as a purely administrative body to assist the IMO in performing the activities which the Constitution of Albania has entrusted the IMO with. Let me be clear: the monitoring activities for the function of vetting bodies have been performed by the international observers. In the next phase, during the vetting process itself, the international observers will perform their monitoring tasks while directly embedded in the vetting bodies. In all cases, the Albanian authorities retain the final responsibility on the vetting process, since the IMO is a strictly non-executive operation with no direct decision-making powers. All the activities undertaken by the IMO are of course fully in line with the Albanian Constitution. I look very much forward to the continuation of this important reform process which will pave the way to the EU.
EWB: How would you asses the summit of Western Balkans leaders held in Sarajevo on 16 March?
GRC: A few weeks ago, the European Council reaffirmed its “unequivocal support for the European perspective of the Western Balkans”. The EU’s Heads of State and Government have signalled that they remain committed and engaged at all levels to support the Western Balkans in conducting EU-oriented reforms and projects. But at a time when there is a dangerous temptation for nationalist rhetoric, the Western Balkans needs regional co-operation more than ever. That is why it is important that the leaders of the region sat together in Sarajevo and discussed challenges and opportunities for deepening co-operation in the region for the benefit of their citizens. It is also essential that they take ownership of this process which is important for a region that shares the same objective of being part of EU family. I look forward to the next Summit of the Western Balkans Leaders in Trieste in July this year.