14 December 2018 – A panel discussion on the rotating EU Council Presidency was held at the EU Info Centre on 14. December 2018. An event of this kind is traditionally organised by CEP semesterly, with the aim of informing the interested public on the achievements of the outgoing presidency, and priorities of the upcoming.
As of 1 January 2018, Romania will take over the presidency of the Council of the European Union (EU) from Austria. This presidency comes at a period of increased attention on the enlargement to the Western Balkans, ushered in by the Juncker Commission, and the preceding Bulgarian and Austrian presidencies. However, as the EU’s next semester will be marked by numerous internal priorities (European Parliament elections, Brexit, the Multiannual Financial Framework negotiations, to name a few), the key question for the Western Balkans is whether the enlargement momentum can be sustained? The panel discussion was moderated by Ms Milena Lazarević, CEP Programme Director, while the following panellists joined the debate on this topic: H.E. Mr Sem Fabrizi, Head of the EU Delegation to Serbia, H.E. Mr Nikolaus Lutterotti, Ambassador of Austria to Serbia, H.E. Oana-Cristina Popa, Ambassador of Romania to Serbia, Prof. Tanja Miščević, Head of the Negotiating Team for Accession of Serbia to the EU, and Mr Srđan Majstorović, Chairman of the CEP Governing Board.
Mr Fabrizi emphasized that the EU wants to preserve the spirit of enlargement in the coming period.
“The countries of the Western Balkans should be more involved in creating the European policies, and this is something which was already proposed by the European Commission. The Union is aware that enlargement is one of its most successful policies and that it needs to be continued in that direction.”
Commenting on whether Serbia should be satisfied with the number of opened chapters during 2018, he commented that it is wrong to focus on the number, because the issue of EU membership is, above all, a matter of quality, not quantity.
“Serbia has made a lot of progress on its path to the EU, but there is still much to be done – first of all in the area of the rule of law. Serbia, like other countries in the region, should continue to work regardless of the developments in the EU next year, as the speed of the enlargement process depends mostly on the member states, “Fabrizi added.
Mr Majstorović emphasized that having in mind the current situation and slow progress in the area of rule of law, as well as relations with other countries in the region, the opening of two chapters is a positive thing.
“The next year represents a great opportunity for this region – to finally start behaving in a European way, show that it is able to overcome its regional problems, involve the public, apply the principles of democracy – to, in a word, improve the image about itself, if the countries of the region want to become credible members of the EU,”Majstorovic stressed.
Mr Lutterotti, the ambassador of the country that chaired the Council of the EU in the second half of 2018, stressed that during each presidency, there is a lot of work done, which is not always visible to the public.
“This year was a good year for the Western Balkans – the focus of the EU on the region and the issue of enlargement was finally restored, after a long period of absence. During its presidency, as it was the case with the previous presidency of Bulgaria in the first half of 2018, Austria continued support to the Western Balkans on its path to EU membership. We expect that Romania will continue to maintain this momentum of enlargement as well, ” Lutterotti said.
Romanian Ambassador Popa stressed that Romania will continue to maintain the focus on enlargement during the course of its presidency, adding that she firmly believes that the future of this region in the EU. As Romania is region’s neighbouring country, Ms Popa said that she well understands the problems that the region faces.
“I see no reason for reforms in Serbia to slow down because of EU’s preoccupation with its problems next year,” the ambassador said, adding that “reforms are not being implemented because the EU is asking for them, but because Serbia and its citizens need them.”
Head of the Negotiation Team for Serbia’s EU Accession Negotiations, Tanja Miščević, said that Serbia recognises that reforms are most important on the road to the EU, which is why it is intensely working to achieve them.
Ms Miščević said that the revision of the action plan for Chapters 23 and 24 has already begun. She added that indicators for monitoring the fulfilment of that plan were included, and this revision should be completed during Romania’s presidency.
“I expect the greatest possible assistance from the presidencies of the Council of the EU, especially from neighbouring Romania, as it has a better understanding of the events in the Balkans,” she said.