[Check Against Delivery]
European Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighbourhood Policy
2014 Enlargement package
Committee of Foreign Affairs, European Parliament
Brussels, 8 October 2014
Mr Chairman, Honourable Members of Parliament, Ladies and Gentlemen.
These days I tend to remember a lot my own hearing as Commissioner-designate in this very House. It has been almost five years, since I entered into a strong commitment with you on enlargement and neighbourhood policy. Thanks to your steadfast support over the past years, I have been able to turn that commitment into actions.
Let me recap the past five years of our enlargement packages.
In 2010, we started our work by focusing on strengthening the credibility of the enlargement process.
We followed that in 2011 with an emphasis on enhancing the transformative power of enlargement.
However, a structure was necessary to sustain these principles over time. Therefore, we started to strengthen the three key pillars of enlargement - rule of law, economic governance and public administration reform.
In 2012, we introduced the first pillar - the new approach to rule of law. The key elements of this new approach are: aspirant countries need to tackle the challenges of Chapter 23 on Judiciary and fundamental rights & Chapter 24 on Justice, freedom and security early in the enlargement process. We have reinforced the system of benchmarks and monitoring and introduced so called imbalance clause.
In 2013, we set out a framework for the second of these three pillars - the economic governance. Our approach is inspired by the European Semester. As of next year, we will offer better guidance to the Western Balkans countries, notably on fiscal issues and competitiveness.
And finally, this year's focus is on the third pillar - public administration reform and strengthening of democratic institutions. Sound public financial management, good policy planning and accountability of services are at the core of any well-functioning state. Special Groups set up in aspirant countries to drive reforms in this area forward.
The three pillars of the enlargement process I just described are mutually reinforcing. Progress in these areas will be key to determining when negotiating countries will be ready to join the European Union.
So, this was the basic framework. Now, allow me to also touch on other important issues which feature in this year's strategy paper. There are five of them:
First, we highlight the importance of respecting fundamental rights such as freedom of expression and protection of vulnerable groups.
Second, we stress the significance of regional cooperation because it provides our partners with opportunity to agree on realistic priorities for investments in connectivity within the region, and between the region and the European Union. Other positive developments over the last year include:
-the increased inclusion of Kosovo in regional fora;
-the launch of the Western Balkans Six enhanced cooperation within the Stabilisation and Association Process; and
-the summit in Berlin in August which focused on regional integration and co-operation. Further annual summits are foreseen, with Austria as the next host.
Third. Throughout my mandate, I have attached particular importance to freedom of expression and so has this House. In 2011 and 2013, we demonstrated this commitment by jointly organising the SpeakUp! Conferences. In this year's strategy paper, unfortunately we have to express our concerns that the past 12 months have seen growing challenges to freedom of expression both in the Western Balkans and in Turkey.
Fourth. We underline the importance of constructive and sustainable dialogue across the political spectrum within our aspirant countries. We launched a number of high level and structured dialogues with them. These created more opportunities for the countries to engage on reforms and for us to assist them.
However, there has been almost a trend of opposition parties boycotting parliaments, i.e. not participating in the work of democratic institutions. While boycott is a strong political statement, it cannot lead to sustainable solutions of problems. To change this negative pattern is the responsibility of both sides:
It is up to the governments to ensure that the oppositions have the possibility to fully perform their democratic control function. And it is up to the opposition parties to keep engaging constructively in the democratic processes.
Fifth. In our new Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance - IPA 2, we propose greater use of budget support and we introduce a sector approach. We also reward good performance, based on the principle of performance reward.
Before turning to the individual countries, allow me to share with you one idea I have been thinking about a lot lately. Amidst the recent discussions on what is enlargement's rightful place in the European Union, I would like to recall the principle which we agreed on in the very first year of my mandate. Once an enlargement country delivers on the necessary reforms, we deliver on its European perspective. Thus, credibility works both ways. Given the recent developments in the East of our continent, it is more vital than ever that the European Union stays true to this principle.
Moving now to the countries.
Montenegro has opened ten more negotiating chapters, including Chapters 23 and 24. Implementation of the relevant rule of law reforms has started, mainly through adoption of legislation and reforms in the judiciary. However, deadlines are being missed in some areas. Montenegro now needs to take urgent action to deliver on the main challenges the country is facing: rule of law related issues and the need to strengthen public administration. Sustaining the pace of rule of law related reforms will be crucial as this will determine the overall pace of accession negotiations.
Montenegro should ensure that an adequate law on political party financing is in place and the effective application of its electoral legislation. This will help build trust in the electoral system. We welcome the fact that Supreme State Prosecutor has been appointed yesterday by the parliament after several attempts, so now the institutions are fully equipped to establish a credible track record of investigations, prosecutions and convictions in cases of corruption.
In Serbia, the launch of accession negotiations this year marked a turning point in our relations. This is a fair acknowledgment of the progress achieved by Serbia, both on its reform agenda and the normalisation of its relations with Kosovo. As a negotiating country, Serbia has both new responsibilities and new opportunities.
Serbia has shown a high level of commitment and professionalism in the first phase of negotiations, the screening process is going on smoothly. Belgrade now needs to continue delivering on its reform priorities, notably on rule of law, public administration reform, and the economic governance. It is also crucial for Serbia to continue its commitment to regional cooperation and normalisation of relations with Kosovo. A new momentum needs to be generated in order to tackle key outstanding issues and open a new phase in the normalisation process. This is key for European Union accession negotiations to continue to proceed smoothly.
In these efforts, Serbia can count on our support and solidarity. The European Union response after the severe floods that hit Serbia in May showed that we are determined to stand by Serbia in all circumstances.
With regard to the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, the European Union accession process is at an impasse. We are concerned about the backsliding in key reform areas over the past year.
It remains essential that decisive steps are taken towards resolving the "name issue" with Greece. Let's not forget that the UN-led process to solve this issue has been running for 19 years!
The Commission maintains the recommendation to open accession negotiations. The cumulative progress and high level of alignment means the country continues to fulfil the necessary political conditions. But at the same time Skopje needs to take resolute reform action if it wishes to sustain European Commission recommendation in future.
Decisive action is required to address concerns about increased politicisation and growing shortcomings with regard to the independence of the judiciary and freedom of expression.
Party interests are increasingly prevailing over national interests. It is the responsibility of both government and opposition to ensure that political debate takes place primarily in parliament and to contribute to creating the conditions for its proper functioning.
We remain committed to assisting the country's efforts, including through an inclusive High Level Accession Dialogue process, to address all European Union-related reforms.
Albania achieved candidate status in June as recognition for its reforms to date. The government has continued to demonstrate political will to push forward with European Union-related reforms. Since June, there have been successful police operations to fight cultivation and traffic of drugs, with impressive results, confirming the government's commitment to act in the fight against organised crime.
We are however concerned about the deterioration of the political climate and the current boycott of parliament by the opposition. The government should ensure that the opposition has the possibility to fully perform its democratic control function.
Candidate status brings more responsibility and should be seen as an incentive for delivering further reform results. The Government now needs to demonstrate a sustained commitment to reform and deliver results in particular on the rule of law and public administration reform and to ensure that this is done with full transparency and in a politically inclusive manner.
For another year, Bosnia and Herzegovina has made very limited progress overall. The lack of political movement stands in stark contrast to the desire of Bosnia and Herzegovina's citizens to see reforms on the country's path to the European Union.
Following the upcoming general elections, it will be important that all levels of government are formed rapidly and it will be essential for the country to find ways of effective coordination, to tackle urgent socio-economic reforms and to engage within the Compact for Growth.
Only if new political impetus is found, can Bosnia and Herzegovina overcome the current stalemate in the European integration process.
The initialling of the Stabilisation and Association Agreement with Kosovo in July is an important step forward in the relation between the European Union and Kosovo. Following the June elections, Kosovo cannot afford to idle, the stakes are too high. The failure to constitute the new legislature smoothly and in a timely manner has been a setback to reform. The post-election impasse needs to be overcome and the assembly and the government established urgently. The new government needs to live up to Kosovo's European Union prospects. It should engage in inclusive dialogue to deliver on its European Union-reform agenda, including building a track record in the area of rule of law, strengthening public economic administration and economic governance.
As I mentioned already, new momentum needs to be generated in the dialogue between Serbia and Kosovo in order to tackle key outstanding issues and open a new phase in the normalisation of relations.
As regards Turkey, a number of positive steps have been taken over the past year such as the ambitious settlement process aimed at addressing the Kurdish issue and the 2013 democratisation package. Let me also note the entry into force of the readmission agreement, the launch of the visa liberalisation dialogue and the admirable efforts of the Turkish authorities and the Turkish people to cope with over one million Syrian refugees.
However, over the past months, there have also been developments which raised the European Union's concerns. Proposals to restrict freedom of expression were adopted such as the changes to the internet law and blanket bans on Twitter and You Tube. I welcome that these have been overturned by the Constitutional Court. Further reform efforts are still needed, in particular because the Criminal Code and Anti-terror legislation are still being used to limit freedom of expression. In too many cases, regulatory agencies still lack independence.
The independence and the efficiency of the judiciary should also be strengthened. Any interference of the executive in the functioning of the judiciary, including the High Council of Judges and Prosecutors should be avoided. The frequent and hasty legal changes, without transitional provisions, risk affecting the effectiveness of the courts. Let me also mention the fact that the widespread reassignments and dismissals of police officers, judges and prosecutors have impacted on the effective functioning of these institutions.
This being said, Turkey and the European Union's futures are inevitably tied together. Turkey is a strategic partner for the European Union, not least in economic and trade relations. Its location also underlines the importance of further cooperation in the areas of migration policy and energy security. It is therefore paramount that accession negations remain the main engine of our relations. This is why I reiterate my recommendation to move forward with the opening of Chapters 23 and 24; this will provide Turkey with a clear roadmap for reforms based on European standards. But ultimately, it is up to Turkey to demonstrate through concrete and consistent progress that it is truly determined to live up to its recently renewed commitment to the accession process.
As regards the Cyprus issue, let me just underline again, not the least with regard to the recent events in and around Cyprus, how important the continuation of fully fledged settlement talks between the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot community leaders under UN auspices is for the future of Cyprus and the whole region. The 11 February Joint Declaration, the appointment of Espen Barth Eide as UN envoy, and the decision to proceed to "structured negotiations" were encouraging positive developments. An agreement on a fair, lasting and comprehensive solution of the Cyprus problem would not only increase the stability in the region and provide new impetus to Turkey's accession negotiations. It would also open up a range of options for the exploitation of hydrocarbon resources in the economically most advantageous way for the benefit of all Cypriots. My hope is that constructive steps will be taken again to reinstall a positive atmosphere around the settlement talks.
Let me now turn from countries to key politicians. Allow me to express my best wishes to the new rapporteurs and my wholehearted gratitude to those of you who have been special friends of enlargement and of the Commissioner in charge.
•Eduard Kukan, who has constantly been at our side both as Chairman of your Delegation for five countries of the Western Balkans region and as a friend always ready to calm even the most heated discussion down.
•Richard Howitt, supportive and critical at the same time towards the country for which he was the rapporteur;
•Ulrike Lunacek, whose passion and determination kept helping the rest of us to move Kosovo agenda forward;
•Charles Tannock, a rigorous defender of the interests of Montenegro, and equally rigorous demandeur of reforms;
•Cristian Dan Preda, whose task to follow a country which finally decided to put its application on hold has never been an easy one.
I would also like to remember with gratitude other friends of enlargement who are no longer Members of this Committee. Doris Pack, Ria Oomen-Ruijten, Hélène Flautre, Jelko Kacin, Libor Rouček, Nikola Vuljanić, Hannes Swoboda, Jorgo Chatzimarkakis, Franziska Brantner, Emine Bozkurt, Marije Cornelissen - to name a few.
•Last, but certainly not least, I would also like to thank Elmar Brok, a seasoned chair of this Committee - and I will stop here.
Mr Chairman, Honourable Members, Ladies and Gentlemen,
The time has come to end my last enlargement speech.
In my introduction, I said that five years ago, we set about strengthening the credibility of our enlargement policy and its transformative power. We have done our utmost. Together, we reinvigorated enlargement from being seen almost as a technical process into something much more powerful: the top external policy instrument of the European Union.
Over these past five years, the situation has changed considerably. There is bigger competition beyond our borders. More reforms and more stability are needed in that area, and enlargement is the best way to achieve that. Yielding is not an option. I trust that in this House, you will extend the same support to my successor, as I enjoyed throughout my tenure.