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European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations
News article19 October 2021StrasbourgDirectorate-General for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Negotiations

Remarks by Commissioner Várhelyi in AFET to present the 2021 Enlargement Package

President, Honourable Members, I am happy to be here to be able to present to you the 2021 enlargement package that we have just adopted at the College meeting this afternoon.

Cssr AFET

Strasbourg, 19 October 2021

 

Check against delivery!

 

President, Honourable Members,

I am happy to be here to be able to present to you the 2021 enlargement package that we have just adopted at the College meeting this afternoon.

As you know, we are convinced as Commission that the Western Balkans are part of the same Europe and they should be part therefore of the European Union. We share the same history, we share the  same continent, we share the same interests and the same values. The European Union is not complete without the Western Balkans.

This region is a strategic priority for the EU. And you have seen that with the visit of our President von der Leyen at the end of September, and the EU-Western Balkans Summit two weeks ago in Brdo. We have demonstrated our strong political commitment to the entire Western Balkans region and the accession process as such.

Let me recall that the Brdo Declaration has sent very important and  positive messages to all our the partners.

    • First, politically, it has reconfirmed the European perspective of the region and the commitment to enlargement. And practically, by demonstrating that the policy priorities for the region mirror the EU’s internal policy priorities.
    • Second, the EU has provided € 3.3 billion for emergency support and for helping the recovery plus together with the Member States we have delivered almost 3  million doses of vaccines already. But more action is needed. We will continue to help the partners to reach similar vaccination rates that exist in  the EU today by the end of 2021.
    • Third, Leaders affirmed the need for the swift implementation of the Economic and Investment Plan: the Plan will mobilise up to € 30 billion of funding representing one third of the region’s GDP. Through it, we are helping our partners build a more modern, better connected and more prosperous societies and bridge the large socio-economic gap between the EU and the region.
    • Following the adoption of the IPA III regulation for which I thank this House  also in September, we can advance together with this Plan as that is the main financial tool of it. In fact, we are bringing the Plan and IPA III to life in record time.
    • Fourth: other very practical measures were agreed to associate the region more closely to the EU. For example, the lowering of roaming charges , the further extension of the green lanes at the borders with the EU, the Innovation Agenda and the implementation of the Green Agenda. These measures bring tangible benefits to the citizens of the region.
    • Fifth: We are also seeking to strengthen regional cooperation. Recent events have shown how deep the divisions run and how much work is needed to build good neighbourly relations.
    • The Common Regional Market initiative - which was agreed by the region’s Leaders in Sofia last year - will maximise the benefits of our investment in both physical infrastructure and in the human capital across the region. It will also help strengthening good neighbourly relations.
    • It is therefore imperative that the region moves forward with its implementation, also to get the maximum benefits from the Economic and Investment Plan.

 

In this broader context, let me to now provide you with an overview of the package we adopted today, including for individual countries, and the Commission’s assessment:

This year’s reports are fully aligned with the revised enlargement methodology, adopted last year by the Commission, and its four main principles: more credibility, more predictability, more dynamism and stronger political steering.

The package puts even greater focus on closely monitoring fundamental reforms, starting with the rule of law, the functioning of democratic institutions, public administration and economic reforms. To underpin it, we will dedicate in IPAIII funding 5% more to the rule of law area.

It is imperative that we ensure the credibility and bring new life to the accession process. If our partners deliver on reforms, the EU also needs to deliver on progress in its negotiations.

In fact, the delay in official launch of accession negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia has had a negative impact on the EU’s credibility. Pending bilateral issues between North Macedonia and Bulgaria need to be solved as a matter of urgency.

The enlargement policy is a merit-based process. Both countries have delivered on reforms and fulfilled the conditions for opening of talks. It is crucial therefore that the EU Member States adopt the negotiating frameworks so that the first intergovernmental conferences are held as soon as possible, still this year. This is essential for EU’s credibility.

But let me present short assessments for all partners, starting with those already in accession negotiations. Montenegro and Serbia agreed to apply the revised methodology. In both cases, our clear assessment is that an overall balance in the negotiations, in line with the Negotiating Frameworks, is currently ensured.

Montenegro has opened all negotiation chapters. The priority for further overall progress  remains the fulfilment of the rule of law interim benchmarks. No chapters can be closed before these interim benchmarks are met. This is part of the new methodology. In order to reach this milestone, Montenegro needs to further intensify its efforts to address the outstanding issues, including in (the) critical areas of freedom of expression and media freedom and fight against corruption and organised crime. The commitment of the government towards focusing on these reforms is important.

In Serbia there is a renewed commitment to reform, the constitutional amendment to strengthen the independence of the judiciary is on track and should be  finalised by the end of this year. Serbia needs to continue and deepen reforms also on the fight against corruption, media freedom, the domestic handling of war crimes and the fight against organised crime.

 

Let me take this opportunity to congratulate also our MEPs Tanja Fajon and Vladimir Bilcik for their successful mission and the agreement in the inter-party dialogue. I also congratulate the Serbian Parliament and its Speaker Ivica Dačić in this context, who has also been instrumental.

 

Serbia’s progress on the rule of law and the normalisation of relations with Kosovo is essential and will continue to determine the overall pace of the accession negotiations. The Serbian government prioritised EU-related reforms and delivered on a number of outstanding commitments in particular on taxation and energy.

 

We therefore welcome that Serbia has fulfilled the Benchmarks for opening of cluster 3 (Competitiveness and inclusive growth) and cluster 4 (Green agenda and sustainable connectivity). We support Serbia’s ambition to open as soon as possible new clusters in the talks on the basis of continuing reform progress.

 

Albania has delivered tangible, sustainable reforms. This is particularly true with the judicial reform and the structures against corruption and organised crime. Elections were generally well organised. We expect continued progress, notably in developing the track record of final convictions in corruption cases and organised crime cases, on media freedom and with the remaining by-laws on minority rights.

 

North Macedonia has shown its determination and made steady progress in implementing EU reforms, including in the areas of rule of law, fight against corruption and organised crime. The country needs to keep up this momentum. The fight against corruption needs to continue along with further efforts in the area of Public Administration Reform.

 

Bosnia and Herzegovina 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.

In Kosovo, 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 organised crime and to enhance economic development. The Commission stands by its assessment of July 2018 that Kosovo has fulfilled all visa liberalisation benchmarks.

The EU-facilitated Dialogue on normalisation 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 normalisation agreement. Unilateral and uncoordinated actions that endanger stability should be avoided.

Concerning Turkey, the European Council welcomed the de-escalation and confirmed that the EU is ready to engage with Turkey in a phased, proportionate and reversible manner to enhance cooperation in a number of areas of common interest.

The Commission is actively engaged to follow up this tasking, and first high level dialogues were already held. We have also intensified engagement to address trade irritants hampering the smooth functioning of the Customs Union that is to the joint benefit of the EU and Turkey. We welcome the ratification of the Paris Agreement by Turkey and look forward to engage with Ankara on climate transition.

However, Turkey has not credibly addressed the EU’s serious concerns on continued deterioration in the rule of law, fundamental rights and the independence of the judiciary. Therefore, the underlying facts leading to the standstill in Turkey’s accession negotiations still hold.

The EU-Turkey Statement of March 2016 continued to deliver results and Turkey continued to play a key role in addressing migration along the eastern Mediterranean route and hosting the largest refugee population in the world. The Commission proposed to allocate € 3 billion in additional assistance to refugees and host communities in Turkey. This will allow to continue our flagship projects and take into account the emerging needs on the ground. We will provide assistance for migration management and border control, notably at Turkey’s eastern borders.

In conclusion:

As you have seen from the brief overview of the enlargement package, there is progress everywhere, now we need the European Parliament, the AFET Committee, and the standing rapporteurs to continue with the very important role you are playing. We have seen many elections in the past period where your help has been instrumental. We have seen many elections with higher standards than before and I take it that this is also is also due to your contribution.

The commitment of this house to a merit-based enlargement policy has always been remarkable. And therefore I thank all the  work that you do to deliver on behalf of the European Union.

I look very much forward to this discussion this afternoon and I am happy to answer your questions.

Thank you!

Details

Publication date
19 October 2021
Author
Directorate-General for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Negotiations
Location
Strasbourg