Belgrade, 4th July 2019 – The “From Romania to Finland: the distance does (not) matter” panel discussion was held today at the EU Info Centre in Belgrade. This event was organised by the European Policy Centre (CEP) and the EU Info Centre.
Panellists including Sem Fabrizi (ambassador and the head of the EU Delegation to Serbia), Oana Cristina Popa (Ambassador of Romania to Serbia), Kimmo Lähdevirta (Ambassador of Finland to Serbia) and Tanja Miščević (head of the team conducting negotiations on Serbia’s accession to the EU) discussed Romanian achievements during its presidency of the Council of European Union, priorities for the Finnish presidency, and the future of the Western Balkans in the coming six months. The panel was moderated by CEP’s Programme Director, Milena Lazarević.
During his introductory speech, Ambassador Fabrizi congratulated Romania on a successful presidency and welcomed the upcoming presidency of Finland. Fabrizi noted that “the protection of citizens and democracy, economy, climate change and a strong Europe at the world level are the nowadays focuses of the EU.” He emphasized the fact that although enlargement is one of the most successful European policies, candidate states have to do their best to fulfil requirements for membership. He also referred to the recent report of the European Commission and assessed its observations as objective.
“The progress within the 23rd and 24th chapters have a crucial importance for the overall advancement – no one should be surprised that Serbia has opened just one chapter this year,” noted Fabrizi.
Romania’s Ambassador to Serbia, Oana Cristina Popa, also agreed with Fabrizi’s assessment of the EC report, with the opinion that it is “a realistic and not a critical one.” It was noted that the Romanian presidency of the EU Council was marked by reduced attention to the Western Balkans, as during this period the EU was primarily focused on its own problems including EU parliamentary elections, Brexit, and negotiations on the upcoming budgetary framework. Ambassador Popa has added that an issue especially important for Romania was giving a voice to internal regions of the EU when important decisions on internal EU policy appeared on the agenda.
“The focus of upcoming Finnish presidency is going to be climate change,” said the Ambassador of Finland, Kimmo Lähdevirta. He added that other priorities of the Finnish presidency include the proper democratic functioning of institutions, rule of law, competitiveness, the creation of new jobs, and solving problems posed by Brexit.
What is the future of the Western Balkans during the coming presidency bearing in mind the priorities and geographic location of Finland? In Lähdevirta’s words, “Finland since always has been supporting the EU enlargement. We see a lot of benefits stemming from it, especially when it comes to the peace, prosperity and economic opportunities.”
Tanja Miščević mentioned the problem of communicating EU enlargement policies to citizens, who are not adequately familiarised with the process, policies, rights and the opportunities they have. She added that it is necessary that work is done to establish better communication. The event was also broadcasted to audiences in Niš and Novi Sad which were also included in the panel discussion.
This was the seventh panel discussion so far in a series of events organised by CEP and the EU Info Centre every six months upon the change of the EU Council Presidency.