Parliamentary Perspectives: What Should Politicians Know about Future EU-Western Balkans Relations?
Members of parliament from across Europe share their perspectives on a question of European policy.
In recent years, the debate on EU enlargement in the Western Balkans has become contentious. Discussions over whether more countries should be granted accession has broken out not only amongst the EU institutions, but also between member states. At the same time, the relationship between the EU and some Western Balkans countries is experiencing a rapid erosion of trust.
A group of decision-makers from EU member states and the Western Balkans exchanged views on how they imagine their relations in the years to come. These are their reflections about one of the most crucial policy challenges of the European integration process.
Ágnes Vadai | Member of Parliament, Hungary (Democratic Coalition)
Hungary joined the EU fifteen years ago. We know what it is like to feel European yet be outside the European family. This is the first thing that European politicians should never forget.
Many countries that now wish to join the EU have always been and felt Europeans, but since the Second World War, they have been left behind, without any hope for many decades. Each of us should learn more about the countries in the Western Balkans. At the same time, countries with candidate status also have to acknowledge and understand our standpoints. European extremists build their politics on stereotypes. It would be a great mistake for other politicians in Europe to follow the same methods. This mutual learning process can accelerate the enlargement process of the EU.
Being a member of the EU should not only mean business. It should start with values. Values that make us Europeans regardless of our nationality. We should have common programs for presenting these values. And last but not least, politicians in Europe should regain trust in themselves. We are good enough to carry out reforms within the EU in parallel to the enlargement process. I am a great supporter of enlargement toward the countries in the Western Balkans and I will do everything as a Hungarian politician to fulfil the dreams of the people of these countries.
Carmen Jeitler-Cincelli | Member of Parliament, Austria (Austrian People’s Party)
We as the EU made promises. Now it is on us to keep those promises and start speaking with one voice. It is the very essence of the European project and its credibility. We have to push for a decision to open accession negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia right now. Let us speak about the enrichment of our EU instead of enlargement.
Let us enrich Europe with stability, a new perspective for all, wealth, security, and a shared identity. That was my inner drive to launch this dialogue in Vienna. That remains my inner conviction. What will happen next will depends on us, the pro-European members of parliaments.
Mireille Clapot | Member of Parliament, France (La République En Marche)
Western Balkan countries have a future in Europe. For geographical reasons, because they are located in the very heart of Europe. For cultural reasons, because their history, language, arts, literature are parts of the big European melting pot. For political reasons, because the interest of Europe is to have a safe and friendly zone in southeastern Europe. The Western Balkan countries had hard times in the 1990s after the collapse of Yugoslavia and again when Albania and Kosovo faced a civil war. The images of these conflicts are still present in our minds and these countries still suffer from a reputation of victim countries, with difficulties managing the differences in their population. Migrants from these countries still seek for asylum, even if their countries are considered “safe.”
The EU used to be considered as a limitless open space, with a brilliant future ahead. The crisis of migration during summer 2015 and the Brexit referendum revealed the gaps between the visions of different member states. The principle of unanimity to make the decisions became a limitation to overcome crises. Therefore, most of the governments realized that their people want to improve the EU before supporting the accession other countries, even if the destiny of these countries is without any doubts to have close relations with Europe.
As a member of the French parliament, I think that the candidate countries that made some reforms have to be encouraged and supported to enter the negotiation process, to show their elites and their people that their future is with Europe.
Frédéric Petit | Member of Parliament, France (Democratic Movement)
I am deeply convinced that we need a political strategy for southeastern Europe that goes beyond the EU/non-EU divide. Topics such as more balanced migrations, a better future for youth, education, historical reconciliation, and supports to small and medium enterprises need to be clearly put forward in the entire region. It is not just about stability; it is about creating an area of shared prosperity both for the Western Balkans and the EU. I have been happy to see that both French and European diplomats have recently put much effort in the cooperation process, thanks to the choices made by Emmanuel Macron and Josep Borell.
The Berlin Process has started to show encouraging results with the foundation of the Regional Youth Cooperation Office. I believe that parliamentarians will soon be able to join this process, along with government executives, civil society, and the business community.
Recently, there have been several misunderstandings about the position of the French government following the decision of the European Council to delay the start of accession talks of North Macedonia and Albania in October 2019. This event is an intermediary step that is necessary in order to establish a new accession procedure with a more efficient monitoring of the rule of law and stronger financial incentives for candidate countries. I have good hopes for that the official negotiations will open soon with a better framework.
Nataša Vučković | Member of Parliament, Serbia (Democratic Party)
The enlargement process is at serious crossroad after the European Council’s decision not to open accession negotiations with Northern Macedonia and Albania in November 2019. The debate on the new methodology of the accession is expected to start soon within the EU institutions and among member states. Yet, methodology may be one of the questions in this debate. Another one is the existence of political will of member states to engage in the enlargement process and support it. It is of the utmost importance that the Western Balkan states aspiring to the EU membership also have their say in this debate.
The parliamentarians from national parliaments in Western Balkan countries may contribute to this debate by communicating to their EU colleagues about the importance of the EU perspective for the citizens in the Western Balkans. In recent years we have witnessed that within the political parties in the EU the interest for the Western Balkans has reduced. Parliamentarians on both sides may reinvigorate such an interest, share information, and bring more colleagues “on board” when enlargement issues are discussed. Presentation of positive outcomes of reforms and their impact on everyday life of citizens will contribute to better understanding, on the side of EU colleagues, of the transformational power the EU integration process has for each country in the Western Balkans.
The parliamentarians shall engage in consideration of issues that impact the destiny of all in Europe, such as climate change and migrations. They shall foster joint approach to the common challenges, in policy community, but also in the EU public opinion. Finally, the national parliamentarians from Western Balkan countries shall persuade their EU colleagues that, within the accession process, they are able to exercise serious and real scrutiny of the executive, both in introducing and implementation of reforms, ensuring that division of powers and parliamentary control are a well rooted practice in everyday political life, as required by the political criteria for membership.”
The Mercator European Dialogue is a parliamentary network offering member of national parliaments an informal political space for cross-party, cross-committee, and cross-country exchange. More about the project here.
The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.