13th November 2019 – The accession process of the Western Balkan states is parallel to the EU internal consolidation. One of the main messages of the panel organised by the French Institute and the European Policy Centre: Politics of enlargement at the crossroads: EU between widening and deepening regarded precondition of reforming the EU enlargement policy along efficient functioning of the EU.
French ambassador to Serbia, Jean-Louis Falconi, gave an introductory speech, noting that the deepening of the EU should include the countries trying to become members of the union one day. He expects that during next five to ten years we will witness better functioning EU together with the countries of Western Balkans being ready for membership.
Following recent decision to postpone the opening of negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania, France has proposed a revised methodology of accession process for the Western Balkan states. French proposal comes in response to the shortcomings of instruments being used in the accession process, which have not really evolved since previous rounds of the EU enlargement as they do not take into account the context and challenges of the Western Balkan states. Julien Voituriez from the General Secretariat for European Affairs of the Government of the French Republic presented details of this proposal.
The French proposal for reform of the enlargement policy is based on four principles. The first one is a gradual approach to EU policies, which would ensure the socialisation of candidate states in institutions of the EU as well as in rights and obligations stemming from the membership to encourage fulfilment of remaining requirements for the full membership. The second principle is that the citizens of the region notice more benefits from the EU accession process, including greater financial support and opening of EU structural funds to the Western Balkan states, currently being accessible solely to the EU member states. The third principle regards a more consistent policy of conditionality, greater involvement of the EU and the member states in monitoring implementation of reforms, delivery of clearer signposts and incentives for candidates to achieve better results with the aim of minimising the economic and social differences between the Western Balkans and the EU member states by the time they will join the EU. The fourth principle is the reversibility of the process, meaning the possibility to sanction the candidate state in case it would backslide in the accession process.
“The revised approach aims to provide citizens with the ownership over the accession process, given that becoming the member of the EU should reflect the decision of people, not just the government”, the French representative said.
During a couple of upcoming weeks, the French proposal is going to be presented to the member states in the EU Council, with the aim of aligning the principles with the EU-Western Balkans summit in Zagreb next May.
Milena Lazarević, the programme director of the European Policy Centre (CEP), presented more than a year ago the ideas for reforming the EU enlargement policy that would make the Western Balkans a smaller “bogeyman” for the member states, which are largely reflected in the French proposal (they are available in English here: Away with the Enlargement Bogeyman). “Although we agree on revision of the enlargement policy, the devil will lie in the details and that’s where the battle will be.” She thinks that the Accession Agreement could be a suitable legal basis to allow the proposal for the gradual integration in the EU.
“It would be good to reach the sense of belonging to the EU in the shortest time possible, to jump over the fence, to get inside the field and at least to sit for a while on the bench as the reserve players, possibly, from time to time participate in some training and learn how to play that game, for the sake of not being the audience anymore”, she said.
She assessed that the countries of the region should not object the enlargement proposals but be “the most constructive players”. “We have to be proactive, because otherwise we will receive some sort of an imposed enlargement process”, Lazarević said.
She added that the civil society wants the new technology to finally reach the aim, meaning that “we have what to catch and what weapons to fight against the captured state, against problems of the rule of law and other issues of weak democracies”.
Vladimir Ateljević, a member of the Serbian EU Accession Negotiating Team, agreed that the framework of the accession process should be the subject to review and assessed the European integration to be much more than a political will, namely a vision based on values and interests. Such a vision was transformed into political will and did not always have the support from the EU citizens, Ateljević said.
Among other issues, he drew attention to the phenomenon of the “bilaterisation” of the accession process. “The question is about what to do if the bilateral dispute is to be settled between the candidate country and the EU member state. Who can guarantee that a member state would accept or apply a solution to a bilateral dispute?”
He also drew attention to the necessity to build a positive image of our region, where one needs partnership working with key member states to play the biggest role.
“The EU needs a new success story, the New Deal, and the enlargement to the Western Balkans must be a part of that story.”
The participants concluded that there is an agreement on the desired goals: the completion of Europe, that is, Western Balkans membership of the EU, and provision of preconditions that every actor can contribute to achievement of this goals.