EU lawmakers in the European Parliament’s foreign affairs committee (AFET) on Monday (20 April) gave green light to a draft report with recommendations on the Western Balkans ahead of the 2020 summit.
Drafted by Croatian MEP Tonino Picula (S&D), the report was adopted with 57 votes in favor, five abstentions and seven against, only a few weeks after the Council finally decided to give the green light to start accession negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia.
The key recommendations of the report are to “ensure that the improved negotiation methodology has the full EU membership as its ultimate goal” and that the EU provides clear and predictable rules and criteria and applies them consistently, thereby restoring its credibility.
Also, MEPs recommended that the clustering of the negotiating chapters should emphasize the depth and quality of reforms in the candidate countries, deliver concrete results in the candidate countries while negotiating in multiple areas.
“This report is a clear sign of the European Parliament’s support to the aspirations and efforts of Western Balkan countries to become EU members once all criteria are met,” Picula said.
“It is also a clear sign that we support the continuation of the enlargement process in general, as it has been one of the most successful EU policies. Enlargement policy is also a precondition to promote the EU’s presence and its strategic interest in the Western Balkans, so it should be seen as being in our mutual interests,” the rapporteur added.
Among the recommendations are criteria of ensuring free, fair and transparent elections, in accordance with international standards and strengthening the role of civil society as an important player in democratic consolidation.
In their recommendations, EU lawmakers stressed that beyond the recent decision, the EU needs to increase its engagement with Western Balkan countries and to grant visa liberalisation to Kosovo as soon as possible as well as to closely engage Western Balkan countries’ representatives in joint European initiatives prior to their accession, including the Conference on the Future of Europe.
MEPs oppose any cuts in pre-accession assistance funding that could slow down EU-related reforms.
According to them, the EU should prioritise specific projects benefiting the people of the Western Balkans and ensure that pre-accession funding is allocated in a transparent, proportionate and non-discriminatory manner, based on performance indicators measuring the progress of the beneficiary countries in implementing reforms.
The EU-Western Balkans summit was scheduled to take place on 6-7 May in Zagreb, but was postponed to a later date due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, it is still discussed whether it may take place in a form of a video-conference.