European Western Balkans: After 60 years of the Rome Treaty a lot of things changed in the EU. How do you see the perspective of the European enlargement? Is it still possible?
Eduard Kukan: Yes, EU enlargement is an ongoing process, as can be seen by concrete advances in Montenegro and Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina’s EU success in 2016. The celebration of the Rome Treaty anniversary was a not only an opportunity to look back at the achievements of the integration process and it’s meaning for our continent, but also a way to look forward to the next decades. That is why I think it’s a pity the leaders of the Western Balkans were not invited to the celebration in Rome. It would have been a good and encouraging signal from our side.
European enlargement is still a big part of our common project, and support to it was also underlined in The Rome Declaration: “We want a Union which remains open to those European countries that respect our values and are committed to promoting them”. This resonated also at the EPP Congress in Malta earlier this year. These statements speak to the essence of the European perspective of Western Balkans: by a genuine dedication to the reform process and advancing in it, the EU is ready to welcome new members.
EWB: How would you asses the current state of democracy in the Western Balkans?
EK: We are seeing a worrying trend across the entire region, notably in relation to the regular functioning of parliamentary democracy and certain state institutions. It creates almost a vicious circle in which weak democracies fuel into weak institutions and the other way around.
We are facing serious political crises in Macedonia and Albania. Other countries in the region, for instance Montenegro and Kosovo, are struggling with parliamentary boycotts. This seems to be a regional trend, which is counter-productive to the democratic development in the countries at the European doorstep. I hope the upcoming months will see a significant reversal in this trend. It is, after all, the first Copenhagen criterion and the most fundamental one.
EWB: What do you see as the main benefits for Serbia in the accession to the EU?
EK: Serbia joining the EU will be a fulfilment of its strategic orientation. Serbia is a part of Europe and I believe it should be strongly anchored in the European Union as well. The benefits of EU membership are peace, stability, democratic rule of law, and the benefits of an integrated market. That translates also into a strong economy which follows rules. Being inside the club is always better, because you can participate on the decision-making process. Being on the outside of the European Union means you only observe the consequences of the decisions of the continent, and you have no active say in them. So for me, the choice is clear and I hope the same applies to Serbia.
EWB: As the chair of the Delegation to the EU-Serbia Stabilisation and Association Parliamentary Committee, how would you assess the progress of Serbia in the negotiations?
EK: Serbia is steadily progressing in the negotiations, which is proved by the latest opening and provisional closing of chapters in February 2017. The accession process takes time and cannot be rushed, and I think we should sometimes be reminded of it. My own country negotiated for over 8 years.
Serbia needs to continue to show that EU accession is a goal for the country, while playing a positive role in the region. I think that Serbia is performing well and I encourage the Maltese Presidency and the subsequent Presidencies to aim at opening, and eventually also closing negotiating chapters.
EWB: Serbian CSO are concerned about media freedom and human rights in the country, beside the fact that Serbia is making progress in the accession talks. What are your thoughts about this issue?
EK: We observe the situation in Serbia and take the concerns of the civil sector seriously. Respecting the rule of law and fundamental freedoms is a prerequisite for any modern and democratic European country. And once again, it is the first Copenhagen criterion. Without it, there is no EU accession.
CSOs are not enemies of the state. They also aren’t the opposition to the government. They are there to reflect the feedback of the society on the state of play of affairs in the country. The state institutions should cooperate with them and listen to their concerns.