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European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations
News article19 October 2021

Remarks by Commissioner Olivér Várhelyi at the press conference on the 2021 Enlargement Package

Cssr Press Conference EP 2021

Strasbourg, 19 October 2021

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Thank you, thank you very much. I am very glad that I can present to you as well now the enlargement package of this year.

This year’s reports are fully aligned with the revised enlargement methodology, which was adopted last year by the Commission, and its four main principles: more credibility, more predictability, more dynamism and stronger political steer throughout the enlargement process.

The package puts even greater focus on fundamental reforms, starting with the rule of law, the functioning of democratic institutions, public administration and economic reforms. To underpin it, we are dedicating 5% more funds to the rule of law under the IPAIII instrument.

It is imperative that we ensure the credibility and bring new life to the accession process. If our partners deliver on reforms, the EU also needs to deliver on them and therefore this is the basis on which we can deliver progress also in the negotiations.

In fact, the delay in official launch of accession negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia has had a negative impact on the EU’s credibility. Pending bilateral issues between North Macedonia and Bulgaria therefore need to be solved as a matter of urgency.

Both countries have delivered on reforms and fulfilled the conditions for the opening of talks. It is therefore now crucial that our Member States in the Council adopt the negotiating frameworks so that the first intergovernmental conferences are held as soon as possible, hopefully still this year. This is essential for EU’s credibility.

We are fully committed to the European perspective of the Western Balkans as you know and we want to move forward as soon as possible with all our partners. At the same time, we recognise that this is a long-term process and there are challenges in the region that need to be addressed today.

In this context, we are bringing significant investment opportunities to the region through the €30 billion Economic and Investment Plan (1/3 of the GDP of the entire region). The implementation of which will help to bridge the enormous socio-economic gap between the EU and the region.

We are also seeking to strengthen the regional cooperation through the Common Regional Market initiative as agreed by the region last year. This will maximise the benefits of our investments and serve as a catalyst to strengthen good neighbourly relations. Recent events have shown how deep the divisions run and how much work is needed to build good neighbourly relations.

Now let me give you a short overview on the individual countries. Starting with the countries already in accession negotiations:

Montenegro and Serbia agreed to apply the revised methodology. In both cases, our clear assessment is that an overall balance in the negotiations, in line with the Negotiating Frameworks, is currently ensured.

In Montenegro, the priority for further overall progress in the accession negotiations remains the fulfilment of the rule of law interim benchmarks as set under chapters 23 and 24. Montenegro needs to further intensify its efforts to address the outstanding issues, including in the critical areas of freedom of expression and media freedom and fight against corruption and organised crime, without reversing earlier achievements in the judicial reform.

In Serbia there is a renewed commitment to reform, the constitutional amendment to strengthen the independence of the judiciary is on track to be finalised by the end of this year. Serbia needs to continue and deepen reforms also on the fight against corruption, media freedom, the domestic handling of war crimes and the fight against organised crime.

Serbia’s progress on the rule of law and the normalisation of relations with Kosovo is essential and will continue to determine the overall pace of the accession negotiations. We welcome that Serbia has fulfilled the Benchmarks for opening of cluster 3 (Competitiveness and inclusive growth) and cluster 4 (Green agenda and sustainable connectivity). We support Serbia’s ambition to open as soon as possible new clusters in the talks on the basis of continuing reform progress.

Albania has delivered tangible, sustainable reforms. This is particularly true with the judicial reform and the structures against corruption and organised crime. We expect continued progress, notably in developing the track record of final convictions in corruption and organised crime cases, on media freedom and with the remaining by-laws on minority rights.

North Macedonia has shown its determination and made steady progress in implementing EU reforms, including in the areas of rule of law, fight against corruption and organised crime. The country needs to keep up this momentum. The fight against corruption needs to continue unabated along with further efforts in the area of Public Administration Reform.

Bosnia and Herzegovina needs to move forward on all 14 key priorities from the Commission Opinion so that it can progress on the EU accession path. We need constructive dialogue and political will from all sides to move forward. Political leaders need to support, not disrupt the functioning of State institutions and work on the adoption of rule of law and judicial reforms. The EU will continue to help the parties reach a solution in line with EU values.

In Kosovo, the early parliamentary elections in February 2021 resulted in a formation of a new government that enjoys a strong parliamentary majority. There is a clear opportunity to make progress on issues such as the fight against corruption and organised crime and to enhance economic development. The Commission stands by its assessment of July 2018 that Kosovo has fulfilled all visa liberalisation benchmarks. Constructive engagement in the Dialogue with Belgrade is necessary, unilateral actions need to be avoided.

Finally, Turkey remains a key partner in essential areas of joint interest, such as migration, counter-terrorism, economy, trade, energy and transport. In that context, high level dialogues were held on climate and migration to be followed by a dialogue on health soon. In June 2019, the Council reiterated that Turkey continues to move further away from the European Union, and that Turkey’s accession negotiations have effectively come to a standstill and no further chapters can be considered for opening or closing. The underlying facts leading to this assessment still hold: There is continued deterioration in the rule of law, fundamental rights and the independence of the judiciary. Nonetheless, dialogue and cooperation with Turkey increased in 2021.

And now, let’s listen to your questions.

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Publication date
19 October 2021