Reacting to the annual enlargement package presented today by the European Commission, the Socialists and Democrats are disappointed with the pace of the Western Balkans’ enlargement process. They underlined that Putin’s war against Ukraine must be a wake-up call for the EU to urgently recommit to the Western Balkans, anchoring these countries stronger in the European democratic family.
Nevertheless, any country aspiring to join the EU must make a clear pro-European choice too – to align with European values and foreign policy. Tomorrow, the foreign affairs committee (AFET) is set to adopt the report drafted by S&D MEP, Tonino Picula, on the New Strategy for Enlargement. It says that enlargement is one of the most successful EU policies of all time, but it must be properly conducted, putting the rule of law and democratic reforms at the heart of the process. The report clearly states that the EU should advance the accession negotiations with Serbia only if the country aligns with the EU sanctions against Russia.
Tonino Picula MEP, the S&D spokesperson on foreign affairs and EP rapporteur on the New Enlargement Strategy, said:
“Russian aggression towards Ukraine must be a wake-up call for us all: enlargement must once again become an EU geopolitically strategic policy after several years of fatigue. Obviously, each country aspiring to join the EU should be judged on its own merits, but it must be underlined again and again: the future of the entire Western Balkans region lies in the European Union.
“This past year has only given us a single piece of good news regarding the Western Balkans enlargement process: the opening of accession negotiations with Albania and the conditional opening with North Macedonia. Now it is high time to progress the enlargement process with other countries. For example, EU member states should finally adopt a visa-free regime for the citizens of Kosovo, which has fulfilled all EU conditions already several years ago!
“In the case of Turkey and Serbia, it is their governments that are mainly to blame for a significant delay in the enlargement process. With persisting deficiencies in the area of rule of law and lack of progress on EU-related reform, their governments are not only making a mockery of democracy, but are also playing a double game by refusing to fulfil their obligations as candidates for EU membership.
“We urge the EPP to use their influence over Vučić and his EPP-associated SNS party. We must not tolerate Serbia ostentatiously reinforcing its alliance with Russia, while Putin is escalating his brutal and illegal war of aggression towards Ukraine and threatening all of us with nuclear weapons.
“We are also disappointed by the high political tensions slowing down the progress of EU-related reforms in Montenegro – the Western Balkan country is still the furthest in the EU’s accession process. I urge the new government to accelerate the much needed reforms, which are in the interests of the citizens of Montenegro, who are overwhelmingly willing to join the European Union. Also, Bosnia and Hercegovina’s leaders must deliver on the necessary reforms to transform BiH into a fully functional state, with a European future.
“With that said, we will be looking forward to the enlargement reports of Moldova and Ukraine next year, and also of Georgia.”