Summary: 18 April 2011, Brussels - Address by Štefan Füle, European Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy, Address to the 5th EU-Serbia interparliamentary meeting
Mr President, Honourable Members of the European Parliament and of the Serbian Parliament,
It is a great pleasure for me to address you, also on behalf of the High Representative Vice-President Ashton, at this 5th Inter-Parliamentary meeting between the European Union and Serbia. However, I hope that this will be one of the last times that I address you in this forum (!) – I hope that we can soon inaugurate the joint parliamentary committee as defined by the Stabilisation and Association Agreement!
The ratification of the Stabilisation and Association Agreement is progressing rapidly; two-thirds of the Member States have now completed or almost finalised their ratification. I very much hope that the process will soon be completed. The European Parliament gave its consent on 19 January. I am keen to see Serbia formally anchored to the European Union by its Stability and Association agreement.
I know that the European Parliament shares my view. The discussion of the resolution prepared by rapporteur Jelko Kacin on Serbia's European integration process last January highlighted the keen interest of the European Parliament for Serbia's next step - the Opinion on Serbia's membership application. This discussion also underlined the members' expectations of Serbia's European-related reforms.
Dear Members of Parliament,
2011 is a year of opportunities for our enlargement policy, for the whole Western Balkan region and for Serbia in particular. One of the most concrete opportunities is the Opinion on Serbia’s application. This opinion could offer the possibility of moving to the next stage in Serbia's accession process.
The Commission is actively working on the preparation of its Opinion. It has completed its analysis of Serbia's replies to the questionnaire. Additional technical questions have been sent to Serbia to further clarify the information submitted in January. Several expert verification missions were conducted in February and March on public administration reform and sound financial management, rule of law and independent regulatory bodies, as well as fundamental rights and protection of minorities. For its part, Serbia is working hard address challenges that were identified in the 2010 Progress Report.
I visited Belgrade on 29 March to review with the government the progress on reforms and the status of the implementation of the governmental Action Plan adopted on 29 December. I also had the pleasure and honour to address the National Assembly. This was particularly significant since Parliament - the institution for an inclusive dialogue between political parties - has a central role to play in the enlargement process. I seized this opportunity to emphasise the top priorities Serbia needs to pursue actively and convincingly over the next months to maximise its chances of getting a positive opinion.
I once again emphasised our hope that serious and sustained efforts on ICTY cooperation will produce fresh results. Welcoming the recent positive symbolic moves towards reconciliation in the region, I showed my appreciation for the spirit in which the dialogue between Serbia and Kosovo started and expressed our hope for early results which would address the practical needs of all people living in Kosovo.
I then emphasised how important it is for Serbia to fulfil the political criteria. This is the key factor that can lead to a positive opinion. I explained that rapid and convincing progress could lead to the opening of accession negotiations with Serbia, thereby granting Serbia candidate status.
This weekend, we followed the developments in Serbia with growing concern. Serbia has set itself ambitious goals in terms of European integration, but only a stable political environment can deliver this. Political differences need to be resolved within the established political processes.
We still need to see progress on key reforms, so Serbia needs to have a single-minded focus on the necessary reforms and obligations. Policies need to be conducted in line with the fundamental goal of accession and all solutions need to reflect European standards. The clock is ticking and the European Union will be watching closely.
In the area of the rule of law, I note with satisfaction the steps taken so far towards judicial reform. We now look forward to the proper conduct of the review of the 2009 appointments and dismissals of judges and prosecutors after all necessary criteria will have been clarified.
More broadly, a lot remains to be done in the fight against corruption and organised crime. I pointed out the need to build a track record of concrete actions in this respect – including opening investigations and pronouncing final convictions.
Both in parliament and with the government, I emphasised the need to bring electoral law and the law on financing of political parties in line with European standards and to incorporate the latest recommendations from the Venice Commission.
Regarding visa liberalisation, a good track record of implementation is essential. I received assurances that the authorities were monitoring the situation of asylum seekers and stepping up preventive measures.
We also discussed the conditions and guarantees of the independent regulatory bodies and on the long-overdue clarification of property rights. Finally, I invited the authorities to remain vigilant on human rights and minority integration.
Mr Chairman, honourable members of Parliament, the last point I raised in Belgrade is one that I will repeat again today: it is essential to have a broad consensus on Serbia's European future.
The Serbian political elite must rally behind its effort to reach the next stage in European integration of the country. They not only need to declare their support for Serbia's European future - they also need to unite in adopting and implementing the relevant legal acts.
For our part, we - within the European Union - must honour our commitments and seek to support all those in Serbia who are striving to fulfil the well-known criteria and conditions.
Serbia has recently completed a government reshuffle; I have no reason to doubt that this will bring a renewed focus on the EU agenda and a qualitative approach to the implementation of the governmental Action Plan. We do appreciate the very good work performed by the European Integration Office. However, the challenges ahead remain huge. There is only a limited amount of time left for Serbia to make further progress before we will issue our opinion.
I am convinced that with our support, Serbia will continue to make substantial progress on its European path. This will deliver a positive message for the whole region, at a time when we need to reaffirm Serbia's European perspective in order to consolidate peace and foster economic prosperity in the Western Balkans.