December 14, 2020 – The European Policy Centre (CEP) held its traditional event today on the occasion of the change of the Presidency of the EU Council. In cooperation with the EU Delegation to Serbia, the event From Germany to Portugal: Taking care of the Union in turbulent times was organixed online.
German Ambassador to Serbia, Thomas Schieb, said that Germany, due to extremely difficult and challenging times, had to change the initial program of the presidency, but that the crisis showed how important it is for the EU to work together for recovery and member states to find common solutions.
Schieb also said that Germany hoped that Serbia would make more progress during the German presidency, however, he is optimistic about the further process of integration of the Western Balkan countries while the EU Council is chaired by Portugal, primarily regarding the start of accession negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania.
He expects that solutions for the dispute between Sofia and Skopje will be found during the Portuguese presidency and that this will have a positive impact on the enlargement policy in general.
The biggest challenge of the German presidency, he said, was to keep other things on the presidency’s agenda during the corona virus pandemic, such as the Green Agreement.
Once the pandemic is under control, environmental protection must be in focus again. “Another important topic that must not be neglected is the rule of law, the sanctuary of the EU”, Schieb said.
Portugal, which is taking over the presidency of the EU Council for the fourth time, will focus on the social and financial recovery of its members after the crisis caused by the corona virus pandemic. The motto of the presidency will be Time to deliver: a fair, green and digital recovery, which indicates the priorities of Lisbon, and they are resilient Europe, solidarity Europe, green Europe, digital Europe and global Europe.
The Ambassador of Portugal to Serbia, Maria Virginia Pina, stated at the event that Portugal, during the EU presidency in the first half of 2021, will be committed to the enlargement process, but that Serbia is expected to work not only on adopting normative acts on reforms, but on their implementation.
“It takes two to play tango. As far as we are concerned, we will do everything we can, but we must see that the other side really wants to join, and it will show that by doing what it needs to do, ” Pina said.
“The rule of law is one of the fundamental things we will deal with and we always tell that to the candidate countries – it is important to join a European club, but it is important to be able to be in that club,” Pina said.
Chairman of CEP Governing Board, Srđan Majstorović said that in the past six months, Serbia had failed to meet its obligations under strategic documents and action plans designed to speed up the EU accession process, but that positive messages from officials had been heard these days.
According to his assessment, concrete results are needed which will show that the new government is aware of all the necessary conditions for speeding up the process.
“It is the government that must accelerate. It takes a lot to convince everyone that we are really determined this time to fulfill our obligations and start behaving responsibly, ” said Majstorović.
Majstorović said the EU’s decision not to open new chapters “finally demonstrated its credibility” in the sense that it did not want to support governments that do not do enough on key issues, such as the functioning of democracy, the fight against corruption, an independent judiciary or media freedom.
The Head of the European Union Delegation to Serbia, Sem Fabrizi, stated that he understands that there are frustrations and disappointments that no chapter has been opened this year, but that this should be understood as a message on what needs to be worked on in order to change it in 2021.
Fabrizi estimated that 2020 was a difficult year for the whole world, including the Union, but those important goals were achieved, such as the adoption of a multi-year financial framework, a package for recovery from the pandemic and reduction of carbon dioxide emissions by 55%. He believes that “enlargement has not escaped the radar”, but that the Union had to adjust its priorities during the global pandemic. Regarding the non-opening of the negotiation process with North Macedonia and Albania, Fabrizi said that it was something temporary and that a “sense of crisis or drama” should be avoided and that he believed that these difficulties would be overcome.