BRUSSELS – Our rigorous but fair assessments presented today detail where the countries stand with the reforms, with clearer guidance and recommendations on the future steps, said Enlargement Commissioner Olivér Várhelyi during European Parliament Committee on Foreign Affairs (AFET).
He said that the dynamic of implementation the reforms will speed up the progress of these countries on EU path and bring long-lasting results.
“In parallel, we have presented an Economic and Investment Plan to spur their long term recovery and accelerate their economic convergence with the EU”, said Várhelyi.
Today, the Commission adopted its Communication on EU enlargement policy and the 2020 Enlargement Package: The annual reports, assessing the implementation of fundamental reforms in the Western Balkans and Turkey, are presented together with clearer and more precise recommendations and guidance on the next steps for those partners, in line with the enhanced enlargement methodology.
Enlargement Commissioner stressed that the report on Serbia will provide key guidance to the new government once it is elected.
“The report encourages Serbian political leaders to urgently accelerate and deepen reforms in particular on political criteria and rule of law”, he told.
For the first time, the Commission assesses the overall balance in the accession negotiations with both Montenegro and Serbia and proposes the way ahead. This should allow the intergovernmental conferences, which should take place after the publication of the Commission’s annual package, to provide the fora for political dialogue on reforms, take stock of the overall accession process and set out the planning for the year ahead, including the opening and closing of chapters and possible corrective measures
In the case of Albania and North Macedonia, the Commission looks forward to the first intergovernmental conferences to be convened as soon as possible after the adoption of the negotiating frameworks by the Council.
The Commission confirmed further progress in the implementation of reforms in Albania and North Macedonia. Albania has already made decisive progress and is close to meeting the conditions set by the Council in view of the first intergovernmental conference.
Bosnia and Herzegovina is expected to address 14 key priorities from the Commission’s Opinion on its EU membership application, with only some steps taken so far.
Várhelyi told that in Bosnia and Herzegovina in the past few months EU has seen some first positive developments in addressing fourth and key priorities.
As regards Kosovo, limited progress was made on EU related reforms and it is important that Kosovo authorities redouble their efforts to advance on the European path, including through the implementation of the Stabilisation and Association Agreement.
Today, the European Commission also adopted a comprehensive Economic and Investment Plan for the Western Balkans, which aims to spur the long-term economic recovery of the region, support a green and digital transition, foster regional integration and convergence with the European Union.
“Today we are presenting our Economic and Investment plan for the Western Balkans to boost the economic development and recovery of the region. We will mobilise up to €9 billion of funding for investment flagships in the areas of transport, energy, green and digital transition, to create sustainable growth and jobs”, Várhelyi told.
He stressed that the Plan also offers a path for a successful regional economic integration to help accelerate convergence with the EU and close the development gap between our regions, ultimately speeding up the process of EU integration.
“This plan should help to transform the Western Balkans into one of the most attractive region for investments in the world. Implementation, of course, will need to go hand in hand with reforms”, he concluded.
Bilčik: Elections in the region provide a fresh mandate for commitment to necessary reforms
MEP Vladimir Bilčik during AFET stressed that candidate countries must step up reforms in the area of rule of law, fundamental freedoms and public administration, adding that it is vital to strengthen the functioning of parliaments across the region.
“Elections in the region provide a fresh mandate for commitment to necessary reforms. I hope that new Parliaments in both Serbia and Montenegro will resume their legislative work as soon as possible”, he said.
He assessed that the Enlargement Package and the Economic and Investment Plan is an opportunity to work on a European perspective and on recovery of Western Balkans after the pandemic.
“Finally, reconciliation remains an important priority for all countries in the region. The renewed Belgrade-Pristina Dialogue is a step in the right direction, but has to be accompanied by the implementation of the issues that already have been agreed”, Bilčik concluded.
Picula: The documents presented were proof of the Union’s commitment to the enlargement process
MEP Tonino Picula said that reforms aimed at strengthening the rule of law and strengthening independent institutions in the three divisions of power must be a key factor in granting access to IPA III and all other European funds intended for EU candidate countries.
“The European Union will help them the most by continuing to support these reforms”, said Picula during AFET, as Rapporteur of the European Parliament Foreign Affairs Committee for the Instrument of Pre-Accession Assistance (IPA III), Coordinator of the Socialist and Democrat Group (S&D) at the European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee, and as Rapporteur for Montenegro and Chair of the Western Balkans Working Group.
Picula told the EU Enlargement Commissioner Olivér Várhelyi that the documents presented were proof of the Union’s commitment to the enlargement process.
In his recommendations for the enlargement process, he has previously emphasized the need for all measures and the pre-accession program to be designed so that the citizens of the candidate countries feel the tangible benefits of EU membership and improved living conditions before accession.
Picula recalls that by providing 3.3 billion euros in financial and logistical support to the region during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Union has shown a true understanding of the region’s importance for European stability.
“With its scope and structure, the Plan confirms its credibility before the candidates from the Western Balkans and before all citizens of the European Union,” Picula emphasizes.