Várhelyi announces new proposals on enlargement by the Commission in early 2020

Oliver Varhelyi in AFET; Photo: European Union

BRUSSELS – Concluding Belgrade-Pristina dialogue by the end of 2020 and releasing new proposals to build upon 2018 Enlargement Strategy are some of the priorities laid out by the new European Commissioner for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Olivér Várhelyi at today’s high-level roundtable on enlargement gathering MEPs and MPs from the Western Balkans in the European Parliament.

“We need to sustain and accelerate the reform process in the candidate countries. The best indicator should be economic prosperity, quality of life and freedom of the people in the Western Balkans”, stated Várhelyi in one of his first engagements as the member of the European Commission.

He said that the Commission will present new proposals to build upon the 2018 Credible Enlargement Strategy. This is aimed to be a reaction to the concerns of the Member States.

“We will continue to put emphasis on the rule of law, economic reform and public administration reform”, said Várhelyi, adding that the stronger political commitment in the region is needed, not for the sake of the Union but for the sake of the Western Balkan citizens.

The new Commissioner expressed his agreement with the increasingly prominent idea that the region should be gradually integrated into the various EU policy areas.

“Western Balkans needs to be strongly associated with our Digital Agenda and Trans-European networks, in order for the citizens to reap the benefits of the early membership”, he said.

He also pledged to continue to defend Commission’s proposal to open negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania before the Zagreb Summit in May, adding that the Croatian presidency will play a crucial role in the process.

Várhelyi reminded that the High Representative Borrell has already said that the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina will be among his top priorities, and said he would give his best to close the dialogue by the end of next years.

When it comes to Serbia, the Commissioner said that  solid reforms are still needed in the areas of democracy, rule of law and media freedom. Ongoing dialogue between the government and the opposition facilitated by the European Parliament is crucial in this process, he added.

One of the mediators of the dialogue, as well as Chair of EP Delegation for Serbia, Tanja Fajon, also participated in the roundtable discussion. She said that she sees many familiar faces, which reminds her that the negotiations have been taking place for 10 years and more.

“Many things have remained the same, and some have even worsened”, she stressed.

Fajon was also critical of the French proposal for enlargement reform, saying that, while she does not have the answer today on how the enlargement process should look like, she thinks that the French proposal would slow down the process.

“Freedom of media is deteriorating everywhere – hate speech has become a part of mainstream media, and this is where we have to react and stop it. We need optimism and we need to work together”, Fajon warned.

The participants were greeted by European Parliament President David Sassoli, who said that he has seen the Western Balkans as a priority from the beginning of his mandate.

“Today I was supposed to be in Tirana to show my support to Albanian people, but unfortunately I was not able to do that because of the earthquake. I want to express my solidarity once more”, said Sassoli.

He said he was struck by the photo of the emergency workers for Serbia and Kosovo helping citizens in Albania, because it shows that the region must work together.

“We must increase our dialogue and solidarity. We need to listen more, to speak more and communicate”, Sassoli said.

Members of Parliament from Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, North Macedonia and Serbia addressed the roundtable, laying out their perspectives on enlargement. Kosovo MPs were unable to attend due to the unfinished process of parliament constitution following the early election in October.