MEPs: Westerns Balkans summit must bring step-change and strengthen democracy

European Parliament; Photo: European Union

STRASBOURG – The Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, the standing rapporteurs and the chairs of delegations of the European Parliament for Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia welcome the Western Balkans summit of 6 May as an opportunity to reconfirm the EU’s historical, political and financial commitment to the region and the continuation of the region’s transformation.

They consider the summit to also be an opportunity for the Western Balkans participants to affirm their adherence to the rule of law, democracy and continued reforms.

“We welcome the virtual Western Balkans summit, which can deepen ties between the EU and Southeastern Europe. It shows that any hurdle can be overcome in the commitment to the enlargement process and that fully-fledged EU membership is the ultimate goal. Such public expressions of solidarity are more important than ever, as disinformation campaigns attempt to create divisions”, it is stated in a press release adding that during these difficult times, the European Parliament stands shoulder-to-shoulder with its Western Balkans partners and reaffirms its unprecedented political, financial and medical assistance to the people of the region.

Summit as an opportunity for a step-change in enlargement

It is highlighted that following on from the March 2020 decision, to open accession talks with Albania and North Macedonia in light of the progress achieved on reforms, this summit provides a further opportunity for a step-change by all parties in the enlargement process.

“We urge our Western Balkans partners to firmly uphold European values and thoroughly and vigorously carry out all necessary reforms. In response, the EU will further assist in fighting against organised crime and corruption, enacting socio-economic reforms, and strengthening judicial systems, the rule of law, and democratic institutions. These reforms will also boost the region by attracting foreign investment and strengthening the economy. We also reaffirm the importance of media freedom and freedom of expression as conditions for democracy,” reads the press release.

“The importance of upholding EU values”

They reminded that all extraordinary measures adopted to address COVID-19 must ensure that fundamental values, democratic and accountable institutions and the rule of law are strictly upheld with parliaments’ role to guarantee that these extraordinary measures are subject to regular scrutiny and pass this democratic litmus test.

“There is no place for democratic backsliding in the enlargement process. The commitment to democracy and strong, independent democratic institutions, in particular parliaments, is fundamental to making the enlargement process a success and in delivering on the aspirations of all citizens,” it is stated in a press release.

Speaking of parliaments, they remind that during the Speaker’s Summit in January, the President of the European Parliament and the Speakers of the Western Balkans stated that parliaments are key to driving the EU reform agenda and in delivering on the European aspirations of the people of the Western Balkans, therefore “the European Parliament will always insist that its parliamentary partners in the Western Balkans play a strong role in the enlargement process.”