28 June 2018 – A panel discussion “From Bulgarian to the Austrian Presidency of the Council of the EU: Will enlargement remain a priority?”, organised by CEP and the EU Info Centre, was held on Thursday, 28 June.
Our panellists were H.E. Sem Fabrizi, Ambassador and Head of the EU Delegation to Serbia, H.E. Radko Vlajkov, Ambassador of Bulgaria to Serbia, H.E. Nikolaus Lutterotti, Ambassador of Austria to Serbia, prof. Tanja Miščević, Head of Negotiating Team for Accession Negotiations of Serbia to the EU, and Srđan Majstorović, Chairman of CEP Governing Board. The panel was moderated by Milena Lazarević, CEP Programme Director.
The Bulgarian EU Presidency has put the enlargement policy back on the Union’s agenda and Austria will continue down that path because there is a desire for progress in the reform processes on the European agenda, said participants at the event.
“The motto of the Bulgarian presidency was the United we stand strong because that is the only way for Europe to fight the crises it faces – crises such as Brexit, populism, terrorism and many others,” Vlaykov said. “Although we are a small, new EU country,” he added, “I believe we have shown in the past six months that we can deal with such a great responsibility as the Presidency of the EU Council,” he concluded.
He added that Bulgaria remains a strong advocate of Serbia’s EU accession and that most of Bulgaria’s citizens support it, but also warns that this is not always the case with other EU countries and that Serbia needs to work more to communicate to EU citizens why enlargement is good for the EU.
Chairman of the CEP Governing Board Srđan Majstorović said that Bulgaria had done a considerable job by affirming the policy of EU enlargement in the region and that it had left good grounds for future presidencies. Austria will certainly continue the positive trend of the EU’s attitude towards the Western Balkans, Majstorovic believes.
He also said the upcoming London Summit will be important for the countries of the region because it would contribute to the improvement of mutual relations and connectivity, but would also show them the ways of functioning and cooperation in the EU. Majstorović also said that the situation in Germany should be monitored, as the country had a positive view on the Union’s enlargement policy and any deviation from that policy would affect the region.
Nikolaus Lutterotti said that his country would preside over the EU for the third time as of July 1, but pointed out that it would be the last full EU presidency ahead of the elections scheduled for spring 2019.
“There will be a lot of legislative work that has to be done and an agreement on Great Britain’s exit from the EU has to be concluded”, he said and added that the Austrian government had chosen ‘A Europe that protects’ as its presidency motto.
“The most important thing for me, as the Ambassador to Serbia, is that we keep a strong focus on the Western Balkan region. The EU can be stable and secure only if it has stability and security in its neighbourhood.”
Lutterotti reiterated his country’s position that the future of the Western Balkans and Serbia was in the EU and that Austria would maintain an intense focus on that subject.
We want to see progress in the reform processes and reforms pertaining to the enlargement agenda. We congratulate Serbia on opening two new chapters and wish to see additional progress during our presidency, said Lutterotti.
Sem Fabrizi said that the focus on the Western Balkans and Serbia had been intense over the last six months, recalling the important documents published by the European Commission.
Fabrizi recalled that an Enlargement Strategy for the Western Balkans had been published, the reports on the countries of the region were unveiled in April, as well as the Sofia declaration after the EU-Western Balkans summit. “The Bulgarian presidency was important for keeping enlargement high on the EU agenda, and now we are waiting for the Austrian presidency”, said Fabrizi, who is confident that the enlargement process will remain high on the Union’s agenda.
As we speak, the Council of the EU is holding a meeting, the Union is at full speed and it is good that Serbia is making progress. Two chapters were opened early this week, while an important meeting on the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue was held on Sunday, said Fabrizi.
Miščević said that Serbia was completing another negotiating position because it wanted to continue submitting new chapters, as the Austrian presidency was a good opportunity for some other chapters to be opened. She expects that Bulgaria’s policy on enlargement in the Western Balkans will continue during the Austrian presidency.
“Work is being done in parallel”, she added, “on meeting the criteria for other chapters, too, and much is also being done to revise the action plans for chapters 23 and 24. We had a big and serious talk with our colleagues from Brussels and we have now set the framework of revisions of the action plans, responses to the provisional criteria which had not been provided at the time when they were being made and that will serve as grounds for annual reports and the non-paper on the rule of law”, said Miščević and underlined that the changes were being made not just to deadlines, but also to the concrete measures and the methods of their implementation.
At the end of the event, Radko Vlajkov handed over to the Austrian Ambassador symbolic gifts and wished Austria a lot of luck in the presidency, which concluded the fourth traditional event that is organised by the CEP and the EU Info Center every six months.
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