European Western Balkans

European Parliament discusses Reports on Western Balkans: Majority support for enlargement, but the criteria need to be met

EP building in Brussels; Photo: European Parliament

BRUSSELS – European Parliament will vote today on the Reports on the 2019-2020 Commission Reports on Albania, Kosovo, North Macedonia and Serbia.

Standing Rapporteur for Albania Isabel Santos (S&D) stated that she wanted to give hope to Albania and that the country had made progress across the board. She stressed that the April elections will be a milestone that should put democracy on even stronger foot and overcome polarisation.

Santos stated that the aim was to bring the horizon of the EU membership closer to the citizens of Albania.

Standing Rapporteur for Kosovo Viola von Cramon-Taubadel (Greens/EFA) urged the Member States to grant visa liberalisation to the country.

“If we do not fulfil our promises, we lose the credibility. I share the frustration of citizens, it is the final time for Council to make the decision”, said von Cramon.

She added that the EU should also do more to help with the vaccine procurement for the citizens of Kosovo.

Von Cramon stressed the importance of political stability in Kosovo following the February election and urged the government to tackle the internal challenges, including air pollution, but also the Belgrade-Pristina Dialogue. Kosovo should not go for the low-hanging fruit in that process and should not abandon the process despite all difficulties.

Von Cramon, who is also the Shadow Rapporteur for Serbia, also urged President Aleksandar Vučić to use the two-thirds majority he has in parliament to commit to the dialogue and democratic reforms and condemned hate speech and orchestrated personal attacks towards journalists.

According to the Standing Rapporteur for North Macedonia Ilhan Kyuchyuk (RE), the country had achieved a consistent progress and demonstrated dedicated commitment to EU path. He assessed that the setbacks such as the impact of the pandemic and diplomatic relations with Bulgaria were noted as well, but that North Macedonia should not stop with reforms, including the fight against corruption, organised crime and ensuring the freedom of speech.

Kyuchyuk expressed hope that that North Macedonia and Bulgaria will reach a compromise and agree on action plan to implement the Friendship treaty and the Council will be able to make the decision to hold the first Intergovernmental Conference with North Macedonia as soon as possible.

When it comes to Serbia, Standing Rapporteur Vladimir Bilčik (EPP) said that he believes that the EP had a balanced Report, which welcomes the progress and criticises the areas where criticism is due.

“We cannot dwell on a single case or a single issue, we need to focus on the systematic change. This is especially important as a message for our European allies”, said Bilčik.

He added that the EU needs to remember the Copenhagen Criteria and that means that the rule of law, political criteria and continuation of the Inter Party Dialogue are important, as well as the cessation of the attacks against journalists.

Bilčik also commented on Albania, saying that EPP group welcomes its commitment but reminds that fight against corruption and amending the Media law continue to be important.

Secretary of State for European Affairs of Portugal Ana Paula Zacarias, representing the Portuguese Presidency, reminded that the Council is still discussing the negotiating frameworks for Albania and North Macedonia and said that the Presidency was looking for pragmatic solutions to adopted them and hold intergovernmental conferences as soon as possible.

She welcomed the resumption of the Belgrade-Pristina Dialogue and urged for the acceleration of reforms in Kosovo. As for Serbia, the Portuguese Presidency would aim to hold an intergovernmental conference under the new methodology this semester, but the overall progress continued to depend on the reforms in key areas, Zacarias said. She urged the parties to engage in the Inter Party Dialogue facilitated by the European Parliament.

European Commissioner for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Olivér Várhelyi stated that it had been an extremely difficult year, but the EU had never lost sight of our closest neighbours.

“Our current focus is providing the vaccines. This has proved more difficult than we had hoped, but we are leaving no stone unturned. I am happy that the COVAX mechanism is delivering first doses to the Western Balkans”, Várhelyi said.

He confirmed that Albania and North Macedonia have fulfilled conditions for holding IGCs and urged Sofia and Skopje to find a compromise to their bilateral disputes. He also said that it was essential for Kosovo to complete the formation of its institutions and that the Commission strongly supported Inter Party Dialogue in Serbia.

During the debate, MEPs from Bulgaria Andrey Kovatchev and Angel Dzhambazki strongly criticised North Macedonia for its treatment of citizens of Bulgarian origin, claiming that the country was denying them the right to self-determination.

On the other hand, MEPs of S&D group, including Tanja Fajon and Andreas Schieder urged the member states to hold the first conference with North Macedonia as soon as possible, claiming that all conditions have been fulfilled.

MEP Michal Šimečka (RE) said that democracy of Albania is in dire need of stabilisation and that rule of law reforms need to be in the focus of the next government. Klemen Grošelj (RE) commented on Serbia, saying that it needed to understand that integration is not a technical process, but rather a process of societal reforms in the areas of democracy and that hard work still lied ahead.

MEP Tonino Picula (S&D) said that his group insisted that all countries in the region uphold the rule of law and values.

“We will not compromise on these issue. Upholding our values means not opening more chapters with Serbia until democratic reforms are implemented”, Picula said.

MEPs of the Hungarian Fidesz party, Andor Deli and Kinga Gál, on the other hand, assessed that the Report on Serbia was too harsh and that this was the result of amendments proposed by left-wing parties.

MEPs from ID group criticised the state in Albania and Kosovo in particular. Thierry Mariani said that the majority of French citizens opposed the entry of these countries in the EU.

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