From Slovenia to France: Western Balkans in Focus

16 December 2021 – The European Union is not complete without the Western Balkans as an integral part, and EU enlargement will remain a strong priority during the French presidency of the European Union, said the French ambassador at the debate “From Slovenia to France: Vouloir, c’est pouvoir”. organized by the European Policy Centre (CEP) and the EU Delegation to Serbia.

“The Western Balkans are the key, the heart of Europe. The Western Balkans will remain a key priority on the French agenda. Moreover, France will support stronger EU investments in the region, promote economic integration, stability, all while keeping the rule of law as the key to reforms in the region,” said French Ambassador to Serbia Pierre Cochard.

Cochard said that the fact that Serbia opened Cluster four shows that the new methodology is good, despite the doubts of many that it will complicate the accession process. He added that, when it comes to the enlargement policy, great successes have been achieved during Slovenia’s presidency, largest of which is the EU-Western Balkans Summit held in Brdo pri Kranju, when Western Balkan leaders agreed on important issues, in addition to the conclusions brought by the Foreign Affairs Council regarding enlargement to each of the Western Balkan countries, as well as the opening of Cluster 4 (Green Agenda and Sustainable Connectivity).

Emanuele Giaufret, the EU Ambassador to Serbia, pointed out that the mentioned Cluster was opened because the European Union saw the utmost commitment of the Government of Serbia in the field of fundamentals – judiciary and the rule of law. However, Giaufret emphasized that the actual progress in the ​​political criteria, i.e. fundamental issues, was limited resulting in the opening of only one negotiating cluster.

Slovenian Ambassador to Serbia Damjan Bergant assessed that the opening of Cluster 4 in Serbia’s negotiations with the EU is important and that Serbia is ready for further progress on its path to the EU.

“We managed to reach a consensus among the 27 EU member states for the opening of Cluster 4. This is very important as Serbia can make progress on its path to the EU. The question is no longer whether it will, but when will Serbia join the European Union” Bergant said.

Programme director of the European Policy Centre (CEP), Milena Lazarević, said the fact was that the European Union had recently wanted to revive the enlargement process and make it much more political than it had been before. She emphasised that the opening of a Cluster in any area should not be seen as a kind of reward for what has been achieved in the previous period.

“Although the current methodology and approach to negotiations take the position that opening a Cluster comes as a kind of reaction to certain reforms, opening negotiations is the best way to structure dialogue and reforms in a country joining the European Union,” Lazarević said.

“The opening of the Cluster should have been something that was done automatically, at the very beginning of the accession process of one country, to structure and discipline reforms in a certain area,” said Lazarević.

This is the 11th traditional event organized by the CEP and the EU Delegation to Serbia which discusses the change of presidency of the Council of the European Union.