When we met in Granada two months ago, the European Parliament’s message was one of optimism and hope. Today, it is a call to action for us all to continue to do our part and to take the courageous decisions that are necessary.
The eyes of so many people in so many countries are upon us today – those of our allies and friends – and of those who stand against our belief system looking to exploit any weakness in our resolve.
This is the time to keep our credibility. To strengthen our position on the global stage. And, most importantly, to anchor our Western Balkans partners firmly in our family of values.
Enlargement is the Union’s strongest geopolitical tool. It remains the best strategic, future-oriented investment in peace, security, stability and prosperity on the European continent. And its transformative ability to bring concrete benefits to societies and citizens are self-evident. Enlargement is a win-win process.
All of this is clear. What is unclear though is – why is it taking so long?
This year we marked 20 years from the Thessaloniki Summit. For 20 years, Croatia has been the only Western Balkan country to join the EU.
For 20 years, enormous resources were invested. There have been promises. There has been progress and backsliding. There has been frustration.
Has there been genuine political will? Will to embrace? Will to reconcile? Will to reform?
Our citizens are asking. It is time to give them answers.
That work on all sides is needed is clear.
We need to see a doubling down on sustainable democratic transformation and a crosscutting alignment with the EU’s fundamental values and policies, delivering on the Copenhagen criteria. A decision to join the EU is a strategic choice. Alignment with the Common Foreign and Security Policy demonstrates that a country fully embraces the EU founding values, which is a condition sine qua non to become EU member.
Our partners also need to foster inclusive regional integration and pursue the completion of the Common Regional Market. The Economic and Investment plan for the Western Balkans as well as the New Growth Plan are there to enable our partners to deeply transform their economies and societies and to come closer to the EU faster.
Many around this table have taken courageous decisions to get closer to the EU. Their political courage must be matched by ours.
The European Union needs to reform in order to be ready to accept new members. The European Parliament has called for reforming our decision-making, common policies and their funding, especially when envisaging an enlarged Union of the future.
After too many false starts, we are witnessing reduced support for EU integration in many of these nations. The European Parliament therefore called for strengthened strategic communication that would provide relevant information on the mutual benefits and opportunities of enlargement both in the accession countries and in the Member States.
There has been some progress – some big some small – data roaming between the EU and the Western Balkans has become more affordable; the European Union has agreed to grant visa liberalisation to Kosovo which will go into effect on the 1st of January 2024; And perhaps most significantly, for the first time in years there is an understanding between EU Member States to get ready for enlargement.
And, the European Commission recommended conditional opening of accession negotiations with Bosnia and Herzegovina.
We must work together more and better to stand up to foreign malign interference, disinformation and information manipulation, which threaten not only the stability in the region but also the very foundations of the European democracy.
Finally, let me mention the role of parliaments. A parliament is a backbone of every democracy. The European Parliament has understood this. Which is why we have invested — and why we continue to invest — in significant resources in strengthening our cooperation with Western Balkan parliaments. Not just as pillars of democratic societies, but also as key actors in the accession process.
A historic window of opportunity has opened.
It is our responsibility and our duty to live up to the challenge. Our citizens count on us and we cannot let them down.
Preuzeto od www.europarl.europa.eu: https://www.europarl.europa.eu/news/en/press-room/20231213IPR15903/