BELGRADE – Seven of Serbia’s leading think tanks and civil society organizations have joined the debate on how best to reform the EU enlargement process ahead of the European Commission’s proposal this week, publishing their own series of recommendations to European institutions.
The document entitled “Integrating the Western Balkans: completing the Europe of the future” was published by the Belgrade Center for Security Policy (BCBP), the Belgrade Fund for Political Excellence (BFPE), the Center for Contemporary Politics (CSP), the European Movement in Serbia (EMINS), the Center for European Policy (CEP), the Center for International and Security Affairs (ISAC) and Lawyers’ Committee for Human Rights (YUCOM).
The organizations submitted a series of recommendations on how to effectively improve the EU enlargement framework. to the European Commission, DG NEAR and Member States, emphasizing that the EU will not be complete, fully integrated, resilient and prosperous without the Western Balkan countries.
True to this statement, the recommendations were designed for all Western Balkan countries, including the pioneer countries Serbia and Montenegro, whose accession negotiations are ongoing.
EU reform alongside enlargement and gradual inclusion of Western Balkan countries in EU programs
Civil society organizations and think tanks envisage internal EU reform taking place in parallel with enlargement rather than leaving the Western Balkans to wait for this process to conclude.
“Previous major EU reforms took place in parallel with previous rounds of EU enlargement, which were significantly larger in scope,” they recall.
They also believe that the Western Balkan countries should be invited to participate in the Conference on the Future of Europe, which would constitute “a message of fundamental importance for the citizens of the region”.
A gradual association of Western Balkan countries with various European Union programs, including the European Green Deal, would be a welcome initiative, according to the organizations.
“Providing candidate countries with concrete advantages would encourage the effective implementation of concrete reforms,” the organizations emphasize, adding that representatives of candidate countries should be able to participate in Council meetings once they have closed the negotiating chapters linked to a specific configuration.
Clearly identify state capture and improve the system for measuring progress in accession negotiations
One of the issues that think tanks and CSOs say requires more concrete action from the EU is state capture, elements of which have been recognized in the European Commission’s strategy for the Western Balkans of February 2018. According to them, the EU should develop instruments that clearly recognize state capture and media capture in the region, and then follow up on this with concrete actions.
The system for measuring progress in the negotiations should also be improved. The organizations propose a prioritization of measures and clear deadlines for their implementation, as well as sanctions in case of failure. This is particularly important in chapters 23 and 24, which concern issues related to the rule of law, human rights, the independence of the judiciary and freedom of the media, and which are vital for the membership process.
Qualified majority voting in the Council and joint work on public support
In order not to allow any Member State to hijack the enlargement process for its own political and bilateral issues, the organizations propose the introduction of qualified majority voting when it comes to procedural aspects of enlargement issues. the EU.
They also believe that the candidate countries should receive more funding, comparable to that which the countries of Central and Eastern Europe benefited from during their accession process. Access to additional funds could be conditional on successful reforms in the rule of law and other key areas.
The proposals also address the issue of bilateral disputes in the region.
“The EU is adamant that it will not import more bilateral disputes and that they must be resolved before accession. However, the EU should become more involved in resolving them, as current mechanisms do not seem sufficient,” the organizations say.
Finally, think tanks and civil society organizations are proposing a more vigorous public relations campaign, which would “address the lukewarm support” of Western Balkan citizens for European integration. This is why they recommend launching a joint communication program with the Western Balkan countries, which would promote “a common history, culture, values and vision for the future of our region and the European Union”.
“It should be emphasized, however, that no methodology can replace the existence (or absence) of political will on both sides,” the letter reads.
The European Commission’s own proposals are expected this week, following the French non-paper on reforming the enlargement process from November 2019 and another non-paper by nine other member states. The process is expected to focus on the coming months.