European Western Balkans

The 2021 Enlargement Package – similar conclusions as last year

European Commission; Photo: Pixabay

BELGRADE / BRUSSELS – Disappointment with the failure to open negotiations in Skopje and Tirana spills over into the region’s enthusiasm for continued European integration, concluded the participants of the online discussion about 2021 Enlargement Package, organised jointly by the Think for Europa Network (TEN) and the Directorate-General for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Negotiations (DG NEAR).

The 2021 Enlargement Package was presented by Maciej Popowski, Acting Director-General of the DG NEAR.

He explained that this year’s enlargement package was written in accordance with the new methodology, but that the conclusions are not fundamentally different from previous reports.

“Again, we have said very clearly that North Macedonia and Albania have met all the criteria and that negotiations should be opened as soon as possible. I do not want to speculate whether this will happen or not, but the conclusion of the Commission is very clear, “said Popowski.

Speaking about the reports for Serbia and Montenegro, Popowski said the European Commission’s conclusion was that some progress had been made and that progress could be made in the negotiations.

According to Popowski, Serbia has made sufficient progress to open Cluster 4, on the green economy and connectivity. He added that the minister of the EU discussed the “state of play” for Serbia on Tuesday, noting that there is still time for the Member States to agree on the possible opening cluster for Serbia.

Popowski recalled that the President of the European Commission Ursula von der Layen gave positive feedback for the European perspective of the region during her visit.

Answering the question about the Open Balkans initiative, Popowski pointed out that inclusiveness is important for the European Commission, which is behind the whole idea of a Common Regional Market.

Srđan Majstorović, Chairman of the Governing Board at the European Policy Center (CEP), said that the reforms implemented by the authorities in Serbia are much more formal than substantial.

“It is characteristic of this year’s report on Serbia that we can see a different, much milder language compared to last year. There was no mention of the captured state, although the political influence on the judiciary has not been resolved, nor has the capture of legislative processes and independent institutions,” Majstorović said.

Ardita Abazi Imeri, Program Coordinator at the European Policy Institute from Skopje, assessed that, although the report of the European Commission has changed structurally, it is not essential, and that the European Commission has recommended the opening of negotiations with North Macedonia this year as well.

“The European Commission has recommended the opening of negotiations, but also the continuation of reforms in North Macedonia, especially in the area of the rule of law,” Imeri said.

She added that, in most chapters, North Macedonia is moderately prepared, but that in some chapters there are also quite positive assessments.

Marko Sošić, Policy Analyst at the Institute Alternative, said that this year’s report is especially interesting for Montenegro because after many years, it analyses the work of a government in which it is not the DPS, but the new government.

He said the report itself is extremely critical, especially in the areas of rule of law. Sošic referred to some critical sentences from the report in which the EC states that certain ministries did not show readiness for reforms, which, as he says, is true.

“It’s true. I will give you an example that it took 6 months to form a working group for Chapter 23… There was a lot of confusion during this period, and the European Commission gave key recommendations on what should be done in the coming period, especially when it comes to the situation in the judiciary,” said Sošić.

Gjergji Vurmo, Program Director at the Institute for Democracy and Mediation (IDM) from Tirana, stated that there are problems when it comes to the EU’s credibility in the enlargement policy, adding that the new methodology will not solve the elephant in the room – the fact that the enlargement process is dead.

He assessed that the EU lost in the previous decade when it comes to the process of democratization of the region.

“The enlargement process must be revived. That process is not technical, it is political and that is why a political decision is needed. The EU must answer the question that it really wants enlargement and whether it is sure that enlargement is a strategic priority for the EU. If the EU wants to revive enlargement, the answers to both questions must be ‘yes’ and the EU must also give a sign that it is serious in that,”  Vurmo concluded.

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