European Western Balkans

Várhelyi: EC proposes the opening talks with Skopje and Tirana, clusters with Belgrade

Commissioner Olivér Várhelyi; Photo: European Union

STRASBOURG – Commissioner for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Olivér Várhelyi presented the 2021 enlargement package, including Commission reports on the candidate and potential candidate countries for EU accession to the Members of the Foreign Affairs Committee (AFET).

Enlargement Commissioner said that Western Balkans share the same history, continent, and values with the European Union, adding that the visit of EC President Von der Leyen has demonstrated EU political commitment to the entire region and the enlargement process.

During his speech at the Foreign Affairs Committee, Várhelyi stressed that delays in the opening of negotiations for Albania and North Macedonia have a negative impact on the EU’s credibility.

According to the Commissioner, Albania has achieved tangible results in judicial reform and the fight against crime, while North Macedonia has also made progress in EU-defined reforms.

“Delays in the official start of membership negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia have a negative impact on the credibility of the EU. The pending bilateral issues between Bulgaria and North Macedonia should be resolved as a matter of priority. It is essential that EU Member States conclude discussions on the Negotiating Frameworks without further delay and that the first intergovernmental conferences with both countries be held as soon as possible and before the end of this year. Albania has achieved tangible results in judicial reform and the fight against crime, results have been achieved in the fight against corruption and crime. Macedonia has made progress in the reforms imposed by the EU, it has been determined in the fight against crime and corruption, this fight must continue, ” the commissioner said.

He reiterated that Serbia and Montenegro agreed to apply a new methodology, which confirmed their commitment to the EU integration process.

Speaking about Montenegro’s progress on the path to membership in the European Union, he reminded that all chapters are open, a total of 33, but that the priority for further progress is to meet the temporary criteria in the field of rule of law.

“No chapter will be able to be closed before these criteria are met,” he said.

According to Várhelyi, Montenegro must intensify efforts to address outstanding issues, including critical areas such as freedom of expression, media freedom, and the fight against organized crime and corruption.

Speaking about Serbia, EU Enlargement Commissioner stressed that rule of law and the normalization of relations with Kosovo remain an essential issue for the accession process to the EU.

He emphasized that Serbia has fulfilled the benchmarks for opening clusters 3 and 4

According to him, work on constitutional amendments is underway and that work should be completed by the end of the year.

“Serbia must continue and deepen reforms in the rule of law, media freedoms, the fight against corruption, the prosecution of war crimes, and the fight against organized crime”, he stressed.

Enlargement Commissioner congratulated MEPs Tanja Fajon and Vladimir Bilčik on their success in mediating the Inter-Party Dialogue, the successful mission, and reaching an agreement.

Speaking about Kosovo, Várhelyi said that the early parliamentary elections in February 2021 resulted in a formation of a new government that enjoys a clear parliamentary majority.

“There is an opportunity to make progress on issues such as the fight against corruption and organized crime and to enhance economic development. The Commission stands by its assessment of July 2018 that Kosovo has fulfilled all visa liberalization benchmarks”, he told.

According to Várhelyi, the EU-facilitated Dialogue on normalization of relations between Serbia and Kosovo remains central to their European future and for the stability of the whole region.

“Both parties need to engage constructively towards the objective of concluding a legally binding comprehensive normalization agreement. Unilateral and uncoordinated actions that endanger stability should be avoided”, Varhelyi stressed.

Speaking about Bosnia and Herzegovina, he told that BiH needs to move forward on all 14 key priorities from the Commission Opinion so that it can progress on the EU accession path.

“We need constructive dialogue and political will from all sides to move forward. Political leaders need to support, not disrupt the functioning of the State institutions and work on the adoption of rule of law and judicial reforms. The EU will continue to help the parties to reach a solution in line with EU principles and values”, Várhelyi concluded.

European Commission assesses and sets out reform priorities for the Western Balkans

Today, the European Commission adopted its 2021 Enlargement Package, providing a detailed assessment of the state of play and the progress made by the Western Balkans and Turkey on their respective paths towards the European Union, with a particular focus on implementing fundamental reforms, as well as clear guidance on the reform priorities ahead.

EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/Vice-President of the European Commission, Josep Borrell, said that with today’s report, the EU provides a detailed assessment of the progress made in the Western Balkans and Turkey, and where work remains to be done.

“We have to maintain a credible enlargement process. This is a two-way street: the new methodology is a merit-based approach. It puts a stronger focus on fundamental reforms, such as rule of law, fundamental freedoms, economy and functioning of democratic institutions. Our partners need to address them, in the interest of their citizens and to advance on the EU path. And they need put aside their differences. On the EU side, we need to deliver on our commitments. The EU is not complete without the Western Balkans. It’s time we come together and unite in building a stronger Europe” Borell told.

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