European Western Balkans

Picula’s report in the European Parliament: Warning for Serbia, but impetus for enlargement

European Parliament session; Photo: European Union

On 13 October, the European Parliament’s Committee on Foreign Affairs (AFET) voted out the draft Resolution, written by MEP from the S&D group and EP rapporteur on the New Enlargement Strategy, Tonino Picula. Amendments to the first version have been created as a compromise between four political groups in the European Parliament: S&D, European People’s party, Greens, and Renew Europe.

The resolution is focusing on Western Balkan countries, Turkey and Eastern Partnership countries while pointing out the concrete obstacles on their European path, including each state individually. It remarks that enlargement is one of the most successful EU policies of all time, but it must be properly conducted, putting the rule of law and democratic reforms at the heart of the process.

When it comes to Serbia, the utmost attention is paid to its foreign policy, relationship with Russia, and non-harmonization with the EU’s sanctions towards the Kremlin. The draft resolution states clearly: the EU should advance the accession negotiations with Serbia only if the country aligns with the EU sanctions against Russia.

However, besides this amendment, which had the strongest resonance with the public, the report is also urging official Belgrade to strengthen the rule of law.

Program manager at the European Policy Centre from Belgrade Strahinja Subotić explains for EWB that the “rule of law is the core of the document”. He added that the resolution comes after the European Commission’s annual reports on Western Balkan countries, which are showing “relative stagnation of the whole region” regarding the rule of law.

The draft report and its amendments

Despite all the criticism and objections, Tonino Picula explained for the press that the “future of the entire Western Balkan region lies in the European Union”.

However, in one of his addresses to the media, Picula put Serbia and Turkey in the same basket regarding significant delays in the enlargement process. It blames both governments for not only making a mockery of democracy but also accuses them of playing a double game by refusing to fulfill their obligations as candidates for EU membership, with the persisting deficiencies in the area of rule of law and lack of progress on EU-related reforms.

Bearing in mind that Turkey has applied to join the European Union (Community) in 1987 and negotiates for membership since 2005, the equalization with Ankara should be a clear warning for the official Belgrade that the approach needs to be changed significantly.

On the other hand, Subotić thinks that this could be understood only as a warning for official Belgrade, meaning that Serbia would put itself in an unpleasant position, the same as Turkey is in, since nobody wants them in the Union anymore due to their domestic political situation. He explained that the message behind these words was more about the future image of Serbia in the international environment.

The first draft report, before the amendments, pointed out the urge for bringing democratic transformation and the rule of law back to the very center of the EU accession process, alongside prioritizing judicial independence, and the fight against corruption and organized crime.

Furthermore, it highlights the need for establishing a monitoring, dialogue, and warning mechanism for rectifying major rule of law deficiencies. However, this is not the recommendation only for Serbia, but for all countries negotiating the accession.

“It is good that the report isn’t destructive, it doesn’t deal only with bad things”, said Strahinja Subotić, adding that it instead “introduces new ideas to encourage reforms”.

If adopted, would the Resolution be influential in practice?

The European Parliament will vote on this draft report in its plenary session, scheduled for the middle of November. If adopted, the report becomes a resolution, which is the official position of the European Parliament regarding the enlargement of the European Union.

However, despite the attempts to strengthen the European Parliament in the past, the resolutions still remain only in the form of recommendations to the member states and EU institutions.

Subotić agrees that the role of EP in the accession process is limited but highlighted that he wouldn’t disregard them. “The European Parliament is very loud and critical towards Serbia”, said our interlocutor, adding that such a paper makes it easier for those countries that believe Serbia must now fully align with the policies of the European Union.

On the contrary, the Program Manager of the European Policy Centre concluded that the European Parliament is ready to become the most determined ally of the Western Balkan countries on innovative approaches in order to overcome the status quo.

Tonino Picula’s draft report emphasizes the importance of the political will of the countries but also states that the same will is inevitable from the European Union. Picula, as a rapporteur, supports the approach of a new geostrategic and political imperative, instead of prolonging the status quo towards Western Balkan.

His harsh, direct, but accurate statements, especially towards Serbia, haven’t been accepted well by official Belgrade. Unofficial spokespersons of the Serbian government, such as the former Minister of Interior Aleksandar Vulin, answered with insults.

This article was published as part of the project “Civil society for good governance and anti-corruption in southeast Europe: Capacity building for monitoring, advocacy and awareness-raising (SELDI)” funded by the European Union.

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