The Enlargement Process in the Western Balkans as a Challenge for the European Union’s Neighbourhood Policy

Austrian Parliament, 8 April 2019

Conference of Speakers of European Union Parliaments at the Vienna Konzerthaus

Vienna (PK) - The relationship between the European Union and its neighbours was the focus of the first part of the Conference of Speakers of European Union Parliaments, taking place today and tomorrow at the Vienna Konzerthaus, which will conclude the Parliamentary Dimension of the Austria’s European Council Presidency. The basic tenor of both the introductory statements and the contributions to the debate highlighted a common commitment to the prospect of EU enlargement to include the countries of the Western Balkans as a European investment in peace, security and stability.

Andrej Danko sees enlargement as a contribution to peace and security

The stability of the neighbouring countries must be the European Union’s most urgent goal, as the goal is to address siginificant challenges in terms of security, peace and migration, said the Slovak National Council Speaker Andrej Danko, in his introductory statement. The southeast border of the EU and the enlargement of the Western Balkans are of particular importance from this point of view. Mr. Danko particularly welcomed the breakthrough between North Macedonia and Greece in the name dispute and saw it as a signal to other states in the region. For the Slovak National Council Speaker, EU enlargement is a structured process aimed at assessing the progress made by individual candidate countries. It is clear that the European Union expects reforms and the recognition of its common values, he stated.

Mr. Danko sees it as particularly incumbent on the European Union to act when it comes to combating terrorism, fundamentalism and radical Islamism. He stressed the need to promote inter-religious dialogue and reconciliation, building on the values shared by both Christianity and Islam.

Nikos Voutsis calls for European solidarity in refugee policy

Hellenic Parliament Speaker Nikos Voutsis called the Prespa Agreement a sign of good neighbourly relations between his country and North Macedonia, citing it as proof that, with the right political will, existing differences between individual states can be resolved peacefully. The agreement not only paves the way for North Macedonia’s EU accession prospects, but is also an important signal to the countries in Southeast Europe. In any case, the rapid integration of the Western Balkans into the EU remains an important priority for Greece. It is clear that the pace of the accession process should be based on the progress made by each country in implementing criteria for EU membership, he stated.

Mr Voutsis also declared his support for the Union for the Mediterranean as a forum for strengthening relations with the EU’s southern neighbours. The promotion of peace and respect for international law, the rule of law and human rights are particularly important, he stated. Mr. Voutsis called for greater solidarity in managing migratory flows, criticising that not all Member States had committed to sharing responsibilities fairly. Regarding the EU’s relations with Turkey, Mr. Voutsis stated his support for a European perspective based on an open dialogue with Ankara.

Roberto Fico: EU must step up support for African states

The EU must adopt a united position vis-à-vis its neighbours and uphold its fundamental values, said Roberto Fico, President of the Italian Chamber of Deputies. He also lamented the conflicting positions on migration at the moment and, like his Greek colleague, he insisted on respect for the principle of solidarity and the equal sharing of responsibilities. Mr. Fico stated that it is necessary to revise the Dublin Regulation, which articulates the principle of the first country of arrival, whereby he called on all EU countries to cooperate in taking in migrants and in combating smuggling. Mr. Fico also called for better coordination of national asylum systems and advocated for greater financial support for peace, democracy and the rule of law in the countries of the southern Mediterranean and the Sahel. The EU’s upcoming Multiannual Financial Framework should set clear priorities by way of financial support, especially for African states.

In foreign policy, it is important for Europe to speak with one voice; consequently Mr. Fico also proposed that the EU be represented as a whole with one seat and one vote in international organisations. “We must put national egotisms behind us and advance common visions,” said Mr. Fico, summing up his stance.

Broad consensus for a European perspective in the Western Balkans

Promoting a sustainable pro-European orientation in the EU’s neighbourhood of the Western Balkans and strengthening cooperation in the Mediterranean region dominated the rest of the discussion on the EU’s Neighbourhood Policy. In an attempt to find a common position on the multifaceted challenges at the European level, the participants of the Conference of Speakers of European Union Parliaments agreed to hold long-term strategic debates on the future of the EU and to set common goals concerning EU enlargement and a corresponding solidarity policy. The common aim is also to improve partnerships between states and to protect European democratic values.

(Closing Conference of the EU Speakers) hof/fan

PLEASE NOTE: Photos of this event can be found at the Parliament's website

Conference of Speakers of the European Union Parliaments