Socialists and Democrats welcome the proposal on an Economic and Investment Plan for the Western Balkans, adopted today by the European Commission, together with the annual enlargement progress reports. Nevertheless, they insist that all countries in the region must implement fundamental reforms to safeguard the rule of law, judiciary, freedom of media and corruption. These reforms must be the main precondition for the disbursement of funds to public authorities under the Investment Plan. The S&Ds will not compromise on European values, both in the case of current member states, and countries wishing to join the EU.
Kati Piri, vice-president of the S&D Group, said:
“We welcome the Economic and Investment Plan for the Western Balkans, both as a tool for long-term support for the people of the region, and for the immediate needs resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic. However, it would be extremely problematic for the European Parliament to demand the respect of rule of law and fundament rights from current member states as the condition to use funds from the new EU 2021-27 budget and the Recovery Fund, without expecting the same from our Western Balkans partners. In situations in which the citizens of the Western Balkans are not the direct recipients of EU funding, a mandatory and binding rule of law conditionality mechanism must be the key to unlocking the grants and guarantees under this Plan.
“When it comes to the enlargement progress reports, we support the crucial and much-overdue steps made during the past year; in particular the opening of accession negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania that my group was strongly advocating for. We confirm our strong and steadfast commitment to a credible EU perspective for all countries of the Western Balkans.
“Turkey is the only country where the accession negotiations have been de facto frozen for years now. The newest Commission report reflects negative developments during the past year that resulted in the further deterioration of an already very concerning situation with regard to fundamental freedoms, rule of law, civil society and judicial independence. The hunt against democratically elected HDP mayors and politicians and the continued and unjustified detention of Osman Kavala are just some of the most worrying recent examples. We are facing a defining moment for the relationship between the EU and Ankara. Any decision to build a positive EU-Turkey agenda would of course depend on Ankara’s willingness to respect the fundamental rights of its citizens.”
Tonino Picula, S&D spokesperson on foreign affairs, and the European Parliament negotiator on pre-accession funds (IPA III) and Montenegro, added:
“The proposed Economic and Investment Plan for the Western Balkans is a clear sign of the continuation of an enhanced approach towards EU enlargement. The EU’s support to realising the region’s European perspective is unquestionable. With around €3.3 billion allocated since the Covid-19 pandemic, the EU has already proven its support with action.
“The Commission’s report on Montenegro confirms that the country is the leader of the enlargement process and has just recently opened the last remaining negotiating chapter. However, the problem is that the chapters are not all closing at a similar pace. Rule of law, judiciary, freedom of media and corruption still remain the main areas of concern. We expect the new government to respect their commitments towards the EU and the international community.
“We are satisfied that according to the Commission report, North Macedonia has maintained steady progress on reforms, especially on the rule of law. This must continue. The new government that came into office in August has a unique chance to keep up the momentum. The S&D Group is looking forward to the 1st Inter-Governmental Conference with the country.
“In Serbia, as the Commission’s report states, the newly constituted Serbian parliament is marked by the overwhelming majority of the ruling coalition. It was elected by the governing party’s overwhelming advantage and the promotion of government policies by most major media outlets. In our view, the Parliament in Serbia has lost its role as a legislative body that represents the whole of Serbian society.
“In Albania, the political dialogue needs to be enhanced and we encourage all relevant actors, both political and belonging to the civil society, to stay focused on implementing the necessary reforms for the country to progress on the path of EU integration.
“When it comes to Kosovo, the S&D Group calls upon a better implementation of the reforms to ensure effective implementation of the EU acquis.
“Bosnia and Herzegovina is unfortunately lagging far behind the rest of the countries in the region. It needs to achieve real progress in all the areas monitored by the Commission, but for that to happen, it needs an efficient government and 14 principles as prerequisite to achieve the candidate status.”