EP Foreign Affairs Committee adopts Picula’s recommendations on enlargement

Tonino Picula; Photo: European Union

BRUSSELS – Committee on Foreign Affairs of the European Parliament (AFET) adopted today the European Parliament’s Report on Recommendations to the Council, the Commission and the Vice-President of the Commission for Foreign Affairs and Security on the Western Balkans ahead of the 2020 Summit. The Report, drafted by MEP Tonino Picula (S&D) was adopted remotely, with 57 votes in favor, five abstentions and seven against.

Among the recommendations are criteria of ensuring free, fair and transparent elections, in accordance with international standards and strengthening the role of civil society as an important player in democratic consolidation.

“The Report adopted today by the European Parliament despite delays due to Coronavirus is a clear message of support for the Western Balkan countries in their efforts and activities with a view to joining the European Union after meeting the criteria. This is a clear sign of our support for the continuation of the enlargement process as a whole, to which we have given new credibility with this report. Enlargement is one of the European Union’s most successful policies throughout its existence and our most powerful foreign policy tool for promoting democracy, prosperity and peace. Enlargement policy is also a prerequisite for strengthening the EU’s presence and strategic interests in the Western Balkans, which is why it is our common interest”, said Picula, who, in addition to his role as Rapporteur for the Recommendations, serves as coordinator of the Parliamentary Group of Socialists and Democrats in AFET, as well as the rapporteur for the IPA III Financial Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance and for Montenegro.

The EU-Western Balkans Summit was scheduled to take place on 6-7 May in Zagreb, but was postponed to a later date due to COVID-19. It may take place in a form of a video-conference.

The key recommendations of the Report are to ensure that the improved  negotiation methodology has the full EU membership as its ultimate goal and that the EU provides clear and predictable rules and criteria and applies them consistently, thereby restoring its credibility.

Also, it is recommended that the clustering of the negotiating chapters should emphasize the depth and quality of reforms in the candidate countries, deliver concrete results in the candidate countries while negotiating in multiple areas.

In addition, the Report recommends making clear the benchmarks for progress, as well as to ensure continued support throughout the negotiation process.

It is alos necessary to provide clear political incentives to the Western Balkan countries and to enable them to participate in EU sectoral policies and programs prior to full membership, through targeted financial support, so that citizens can feel the tangible benefits of membership and increase their EU presence in those countries.

It is of utmost importance to ensure closer cooperation between the European and the parliaments of the candidate countries.

In order to ensure that reforms in the candidate countries are lasting and sustainable, the conditionality mechanism needs to be strengthened so that the negotiation process based on objective criteria can also be suspended in the event of non-compliance.

Democracy and the rule of law must be at the heart of the enlargement process, which means that the chapters on the judiciary, the fight against corruption and organized crime, as well as those on respect for human rights and freedom of the media, with particular emphasis on ensuring the conditions for the independent and undisturbed work of journalists.

“The European Union has always shown strength in challenging times,” commented Picula on the circumstances of the Report, adding that, with the admission of new members and with its reform, the Union should continue to do so in the future.

“In the end, some of the problems the Report takes into account have been addressed, such as the green light for opening negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia. I am proud that this has been done thanks to the effort, effort and pressure of the European Parliament, as the two countries certainly deserved the opening of the negotiations”, Picula concluded.