European Western Balkans
European Integration

EP adopted resolution on enlargement

European Parliament Session; Photo: European Union

STRASBOURG — At the plenary session held on November 23, the European Parliament adopted the resolution on the new EU enlargement strategy, proposed by MP Tonino Picula from the Group of Socialists and Democrats (S&D), with 502 votes in favor, 75 votes against, 62 abstentions.

Picula, EP rapporteur on the New Enlargement Strategy, expressed his satisfaction with the voting results on Twitter, where he said that the EP wants “a transparent and accelerated enlargement process for those who deserve it and the abolition of funds for those regimes that do not support European values.”

Group of Socialists and Democrats in the EP (S&D) released a statement stressing the importance of the report, bearing in mind that the “enlargement is one of the most successful EU policies, but it must be re-energised in order for the EU to retain its geostrategic relevance and credibility,” while also keeping the clear focus on the rule of law and democratic reforms. 

The statement explained that the report “stresses that if the EU wants to be a geopolitical player, it must remain an open project, and also proposes a clear deadline: accession negotiations should be concluded by the end of 2030.”

The resolution recognized the importance of enlargement policy in light of current geopolitical circumstances caused by the Russian aggression on Ukraine, as well as the diminishing effectiveness of the enlargement policy “due to the EU’s failure to live up to its own promises.”

In order to learn from its past mistakes and improve the enlargement policy altogether, the EU should transform the accession process to be more responsive to the merits, as well as the backsliding demonstrated by candidate countries, as it is pointed out in the resolution. 

Some of the concrete steps recommended by the EP towards achieving that include abolishing the requirement for unanimity when deciding on opening and closing clusters and chapters, as well as accession negotiations, and introducing qualified majority for votes related to the accession process instead. It further calls upon Member States to “avoid using unresolved bilateral and regional disputes to block candidate countries’ accession processes.”

Another proposal for improving the accession process is the introduction of “membership-oriented roadmaps for each individual accession country with tangible and concrete steps as well as regular feedback on the results achieved,” as well as appointment of EU chief negotiators for every country, who would act under a broad mandate and also answer to the EP. 

The EP further proposed rewarding countries who make substantial progress in the reforms by a phase-in approach, gradually including them in “respective EU policies, initiatives and the single market, including access to EU funds in the respective areas, enabling citizens to reap the benefits of accession throughout the process and not only upon its completion.” On the other hand, regression or lack of progress should be sanctioned according to the targeted conditionality policy. 

“I strongly believe the enlargement process can encourage much-awaited EU reforms. We have to improve decision-making. We cannot lose time once again, like in the case of North Macedonia and Albania… But as much as the S&Ds want the EU to accelerate the enlargement process, it’s clear that its success also depends on countries aspiring to join our EU family. They must make clear pro-European choices. EU membership means more than just EU funds and transport corridors. Before anything, it represents a set of values and principles to share and respect,” Picula stated.

The resolution calls on the Commission and the Council of the EU to regard the issue of harmonization with the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy as a priority in the accession process, and states that negotiations with Serbia should progress “only if the country aligns with EU sanctions against Russia and makes significant progress on the EU-related reforms.”

The MPs adopted the amendment on the part of the resolution related to Serbia, which calls upon the Member States to “reconsider any bilateral and EU funds for Serbia that would benefit the Serbian authorities.” This refers to the funds under the framework of Western Balkan Economic and Investment Plan in particular, “in order to ensure that all EU expenditure is fully in line with the EU’s strategic goals and interests.” 

In another amendment adopted by the plenary, the EP “expressed concern about the persistent political crisis in Montenegro, which has already had and continues to have negative consequences for the country’s EU accession path.” The resolution further reminds that the rule of law is crucial for the process of EU integration and that the country’s legislation must be fully aligned with its constitution. Montenegro, which is regarded as the “frontrunner in the EU accession process”, should be given “closing benchmarks for negotiating chapters” in order to accelerate the country’s accession.

The EP used this opportunity to express support for Bosnia and Herzegovina in implementation of reforms and “welcome the Commission’s recommendation with conditions for granting candidate country status to Bosnia and Herzegovina.” The final text of the resolution also included the amendment which “and calls on the European Council to follow up on the recommendation as soon as possible.”

When it comes to regional cooperation, the resolution included the amendment which welcomes the three mobility agreements signed on 3 November under the framework of the Berlin Process, one of the initiatives recognized as a good example of regional cooperation by the resolution. However, the resolution also called upon the Member States to “express strong reservations about any regional economic cooperation initiative that does not encompass all six Western Balkan countries and is not based on EU rules, such as the Open Balkan initiative.”

Following its adoption, the resolution now presents the official stance of the European Parliament towards the enlargement. Even though it is not binding, the resolution is an offical recommendation to the Commission and the Council.

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