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European Western Balkans
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Tonino Picula presents recommendations concerning new EU strategy for enlargement

Tonino Picula; Photo: European Union

STRASBOURG – Tonino Picula, EP rapporteur on the New Enlargement Strategy, presented the Report on a European Parliament recommendation to the Council, the Commission and the Vice-President of the Commission / High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy concerning the new EU strategy for enlargement at the plenary session of the European Parliament.

During the debate, Tonino Picula emphasized that in the situation of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, expansion must gain new momentum, be predictable and believable, and each candidate for membership must be evaluated according to progress in European reforms, especially when it comes to the rule of law, the judiciary, which must be the same as in the EU.

Picula also said that in the negotiations on the completion of the chapter, decisions should be made by a qualified majority of EU members, while for the final completion of the accession procedure, all members of the Union would have to agree unanimously.

He added that it is important that EU support funds are opened to candidates for membership as soon as they meet the requirements for some cluster chapters, and not that these funds are available only when they become full members of the Union.

The European Commissioner for Enlargement, Oliver Varhelyi, assessed that the EU has made progress by introducing a new methodology and clusters, collectively related chapters, but he also underlined that in order to promote enlargement, as a geopolitical priority, it is necessary that there is political will from both the EU members and the countries on the way to the Union.

Some MEPs assessed that the accession negotiations with Serbia should progress only if the country complies with EU sanctions against Russia and makes significant progress in EU-related reforms, which is also stated in the Recommendation, and in some amendments that will be voted on tomorrow.

The resolution accurately reflects the new momentum for the EU enlargement, as it calls upon the Council and the Commission to “advance the EU’s enlargement policy as the single most effective EU instrument for securing peace, prosperity and fundamental values on the European continent.”

Considering previous shortcomings of the EU enlargement policy in the Western Balkans, the resolution recommends the EU to adopt a clear, merit-based approach in order to deliver on its promises towards the its partners and a mechanism that would prevent Member States from using bilateral disputes to obstruct negotiation process with candidate countries.

The resolution further recommends recognizing the importance of intergovernmental forums such as the Berlin Process, but also 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.”

It’s widely known that Serbia’s non-alignment with the EU Common Foreign and Security Policy isn’t seen favorably by the EP, which recommended that the Council should advance accession negotiation with Serbia only if the country aligns with the EU foreign policy on Russia, including the sanctions. Moreover, the MPs stated that the EU should reconsider funding provided to Serbia “in order to ensure that all EU expenditure is fully in line with the EU’s strategic goals and interests.”

In light of the discussion about the EU delivering on its part when it comes to the accession process, the resolution stressed that visa liberalization to Kosovo should be granted “without delay.” Regarding the Belgrade-Priština dialogue, the MPs called upon the EU institutions to “step up the EU’s constructive engagement with the authorities of both Serbia and Kosovo.”

The resolution further stated the importance of the “long overdue” start of accession negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia and called for support to Bosnia and Herzegovina in fulfilling the 14 key requirements outlined by the European Council in June 2022, which would allow the country to be granted candidate status.

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 resolution also called for Montenegro’s “multi-ethnic identity to be respected.”

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