Western Balkans enlargement a priority, says EU Parliament

European Parliament President Antonio Tajani has said that continued EU enlargement should be a priority.

Andrej Plenkovic Photo credit: European Parliament audiovisual

Speaking at a briefing alongside Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenković, Tajani said, “For us in Parliament, enlargement of the western Balkans is a priority.”

He was speaking after a three-hour debate on the future of Europe, which Plenković also took part in. 

Tajani said, “Parliament wants to be at the centre of this debate and I hope that this debate today will pave the way for better relations between the EU and Croatia.”


Plenković , a former MEP, told reporters, “My main message is to say that our government is a pro-European government and the fight against populism is a common task for all of us. We see this growth in populism across member states and we need to prevent such populist tendencies by having an informed debate on the EU dossiers at EU level.”

The Prime Minister said, “EU values and the EU project are intrinsically linked to Croatia. Europe was our dream in the 90s. Now that we have been members for five years we can assess things. I want to see us in the inner circle, including the eurozone.”

He added, “My country has benefited from EU membership and we want to see this continue.”

Greens/EFA co-President Ska Keller used her speech on Tuesday to raise questions regarding widening social inequality and environmental concerns in Croatia.

The German deputy said, “The European Union is founded on the aim of preventing wars and putting nationalism behind us. However, in Croatia many cling to the past. Croatia must overcome the shadows of the past and learn to prosper together with its old enemies.

"Despite economic progress, inequality in Croatia is widening. This worrying trend is visible in many member states. The European Union is based on the promise of a prosperous future for everybody. We urgently need to address social injustice if we are to keep the European Union together.

“Croatia must do more to protect its exceptional environment. I urge Prime Minister Plenković to reconsider his plans for the LNG terminal in the Northern Adriatic and for huge golf courses which would be deeply damaging for the environment and local businesses."

Both Tajani and Plenković were also asked by reporters about the debate taking place in a half empty chamber.

Tajani said this did not reflect a lack of interest, adding, “MEPs are working hard inside and outside the plenary, with a lot of meetings.”

The Prime Minister said, “This was the normal attendance and to be expected. I am sure those who wanted to take part in the debate did so. I am sure those who were not there were in their offices glued to the TV watching it that way.”

Plenković also addressed the issue of Brexit, saying this was  “a big loss and a downside for the EU.”

But he added, “Even so, I believe that the unity of the EU27 will hold. It is important we are past the first phase but the new relationship is the next critical thing. I hope we can find a good compromise and the process will pass with as few negative aspects as possible.”

On this Tajani said, “On Brexit, we are united at EU level, working for a good solution before the 2019 European elections.”

Plenković’s appearance came on the day EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini unveiled the Commission’s new Western Balkans strategy.

Efforts to integrate the region into the EU are traditionally supported by the European Parliament, which nonetheless highlights shortcomings in the rule of law, fundamental rights or the fight against corruption there.

S&D group Vice-Chair Victor Boştinaru said, “We welcome the EU strategy for the Western Balkans. The Western Balkans are key for the stability and security of the EU and its citizens. We are facing common challenges like migration, radicalisation and terrorism.

“We cannot risk losing the momentum and must come together to find common answers and solutions to these problems. The European integration of the Western Balkans is in the interests of both sides.”

ALDE group MEP, Hilde Vautmans commented, “The 2025 perspective for Serbia and Montenegro should be interpreted as a sign to the citizens of these countries that the EU keeps its doors open.

“It is also a clear message to the leaderships of these countries to immediately reverse the negative trends in the media sector and respect for fundamental rights. They must double-down on the reform process now and deliver the necessary political and economic reforms.

“In the case of Serbia, this entails the long-neglected reckoning with the reality of Kosovo's independence - the Commission strategy rightly emphasises that a legally binding agreement on the normalisation of relations with Kosovo is urgently needed.”

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