Four countries hoping to join EU must make progress on ‘fundamental’ internal reforms

Parliamentary reports on the accession ambitions of Albania, Kosovo, North Macedonia and Serbia say each “need to continue focus” on reforms.
AdobeStock 153737074

By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

31 Mar 2021

The parliamentary reports assess the progress made by all four countries in the last two years and conclude that joining the EU depends on “lasting, in-depth and irreversible reforms across fundamental areas.”

These include the rule of law, the “effective functioning of democratic institutions”, stepping up the fight against corruption and organised crime and “good neighbourly relations.”

Responding, the Renew Europe Group said it “regrets” the lack of progress in many areas of Serbia’s reform agenda.

It says there has even been backsliding on issues that are “fundamental” for EU accession such as rule of law, fundamental rights, media freedom, and the functioning of democratic institutions and public administration.

Slovenian Renew Europe MEP, Klemen Grošelj, shadow rapporteur on Serbia, said, “Serbia's path to the EU is wide open, the path is known, the advantages and disadvantages are known, as well as obstacles along the way, and now it is up to Serbia to find the will and energy to follow this path quickly, efficiently and in the interest of its citizens.”

Grošelj went on, “It takes hard work to find a broad political and social consensus, but any shortcut, as tempting as it may be, is already proving to be a significantly worse alternative to Serbia’s European integration.”

“The S&Ds insist in particular that all countries in the region uphold fundamental rights and the rule of law, defend the freedom of the media and fight corruption. We are and will remain the most reliable voice for enlargement in this house, but we will not compromise on these issues” Tonino Picula, S&D

The S&D Group, for its part, gives “clear support for a European perspective” for all the countries in the Western Balkans. It called for the EU to “finally” start accession talks with North Macedonia and Albania.

Socialist member Tonino Picula, Parliament’s rapporteur on enlargement in the Western Balkans said, “The future of the Western Balkans remains within a strong and united EU and we encourage them to continue the path of reform towards EU laws, standards and values.”

“The S&Ds insist in particular that all countries in the region uphold fundamental rights and the rule of law, defend the freedom of the media and fight corruption. We are and will remain the most reliable voice for enlargement in this house, but we will not compromise on these issues.”

In the adopted reports MEPs also highlighted the importance for “swift and concrete” actions related to energy and environment issues.

Viktor Berishaj, energy policy coordinator for South East Europe at CAN Europe, a climate action group, said, “The European Parliament’s country enlargement reports on Western Balkans reflect many concerns and calls of the civil society organisations and experts working on climate and energy issues.”

He added, “Conditions are ripe and policymakers in the Western Balkans need to make concrete steps which would ensure a sustainable energy transition towards economy-wide decarbonisation of the region. This would also be a step closer towards a healthy region as well as towards joining the EU.”

“Serbia's path to the EU is wide open, the path is known, the advantages and disadvantages are known, as well as obstacles along the way, and now it is up to Serbia to find the will and energy to follow this path quickly, efficiently and in the interest of its citizens” Klemen Grošelj, Renew Europe

Meanwhile, at its March plenary session, the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) hosted a debate with Olivér Várhelyi, European Commissioner for Neighbourhood and Enlargement, to discuss the state of play of the accession of the Western Balkan partners.

EESC President Christa Schweng opened the debate by stressing the “great importance” that the EESC attaches to the EU enlargement process to the Western Balkans.

She said, “Our Committee considers the Western Balkans as the missing piece of the puzzle in the European Union's ambition of creating a united and sustainable Europe, a Europe fit for the future.”

“The enlargement of the European Union, and in particular the spread of its democratic values and legal standards to the Western Balkans, is in the interest of both the region and the European Union.”

Várhelyi welcomed the fact that the EESC remained so strongly committed to the Western Balkans and said, “It is our common aim to strengthen democratic societies in the enlargement region.”

He mentioned the impact the COVID-19 pandemic had had in the Western Balkans and stressed that “the European Commission is determined to continue supporting our closest neighbours with all its means in these difficult times.”

Read the most recent articles written by Martin Banks - New Council of Europe report warns of democratic backsliding across continent

Categories

EU Institutions
Share this page