Wolfgang Sobotka and Norbert Lammert: Bringing the Western Balkan Countries into the EU Fold is Clearly in Europe’s Interest
Austrian Parliament, 9 October 2018
Discussion in Parliament on the enlargement perspective for the Western Balkans and parliaments’ role
It is clearly in the European interest to being the Western Balkan countries into the EU fold; however, prior to accession these countries must make a clear commitment to the fundamental values of the EU and enact domestic reforms. Wolfgang Sobotka, President of the Austrian National Council, and Norbert Lammert, former President of the German Bundestag and current Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, agreed on this assessment today. Both the European Parliament and the national parliaments will play an important role in this process and must ensure that the criteria set forth for accession are met, said Mr. Lammert.
Mr. Lammert gave the opening speech today at the panel discussion initiated by Mr. Sobotka entitled “The Enlargement Perspective for the Western Balkans - The Role of Parliaments”. In addition to the numerous international guests, Mr. Sobotka also welcomed former President of the Austrian National Council Andreas Khol, former Second President of the Austrian National Council Fritz Neugebauer and former Austrian Vice-Chancellor Erhard Busek.
The challenges inherent in this rapprochement process were laid out by Christian Danielsson, Director-General for Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations at the European Commission; Liliana Tanguy, Member of the French National Assembly and Deputy Chair of its European Affairs Committee; Member of the European Parliament Michael Gahler and Oliver Jens Schmitt, Professor of Southeast European History at the University of Vienna. The event concluded with statements by the five parliamentary parties.
Wolfgang Sobotka: The countries of the Western Balkans are a part of Europe
“The countries of the Western Balkans are part of Europe,” said Wolfgang Sobotka, President of the Austrian National Council, underscoring the importance of the issue; it is in the EU's interest to support them along their journey towards joining the European Union. The EU is a peace project, but only part of Europe has been able to enjoy these last 70 years of peace, begun after a long-term resolution to the conflict between France and Germany was achieved. But we must now focus our attention on a region that is still cause for concern and where open wounds remain. Rapprochement among the countries of the Western Balkans is indispensable, said Mr. Sobotka, who expressed his strong support for a long-term and sustainable involvement on the part of the EU in this region. Otherwise, other states would try to expand their influence in the region further, he warned.
Austria’s historical responsibility also means that it can bring its expertise to the Balkans. However, this responsibility should not only be limited to political discussions and economic expansion. “We need to adopt an active approach,” Mr. Sobotka stressed.
Norbert Lammert: The mistakes of the past must not be repeated
Former President of the German Bundestag Norbert Lammert issued an urgent call to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past, in other words allowing countries to join that do not fully meet the criteria for EU membership. Accordingly, he expressed his support for the Austrian Presidency's priority of making the rapprochement and enlargement process for all of the Western Balkan countries a shared responsibility for all European partners. This should be done in accordance with clear criteria and on the basis of the specific developments and measurable progress in the candidate countries. According to Mr. Lammert, the upcoming EU presidencies should also be committed to upholding these principles and to making sure to include all of these aspects in the process. Omitting criteria to facilitate accession for individual countries is the wrong way to go, he said, clarifying that the parliaments should pay strict attention to monitoring full and proper compliance with all of the criteria.
Mr. Lammert also said that he did not approve of setting deadlines in advance and pointed out the many difficulties that the countries of the Western Balkans still face - from high trade deficits and significant public debt, to weak infrastructure, corruption and shortcomings with regard to the rule of law. Moreover, Mr. Lammert conceded on a critical note that there are even some EU countries that suffer from shortcomings as well, especially when it comes to the rule of law.
For these reasons alone, the rapprochement process will be more difficult, said the former President of the Bundestag. Added to the mix were the differing interests from the various Member States. Mr. Lammert also expressed his concern that even the decision to decide on accession negotiations after next year's European elections would not make things any easier in light of the possible outcome of the elections. At the same time, he said, looking back on the fall of the Iron Curtain and the Berlin Wall, change is possible, even if some consider it impossible.
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