Remarks by High Representative/Vice-President Federica Mogherini at the joint press conference on the adoption of the 2019 Enlargement Package
Bruxelles, 29/05/2019 - 14:28
As every year, I am happy to be here with you and with Commissioner [for the European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations, Johannes] Hahn to present this year’s Enlargement Package, which is, as you know, the regular assessment we do of the work that has been done during the past year, in the region and with our partners, to see where we are with the European Union integration of the Western Balkans as well as in our relations with Turkey as a candidate country.
It is a very important moment both for us and for our partners.
You will see very clearly in the package that we confirm a credible enlargement policy being a geostrategic investment, for the European Union itself, in peace, stability, security and prosperity for the whole of Europe. It is – we believe – in our own interest to have a successful enlargement policy. The European perspective remains the driver for change, especially in the Balkans, and this should not be underestimated nor taken for granted.
What you will read in this report, be it the deep and unprecedented judicial reform in Albania or the changes in North Macedonia, is the direct result of peoples' strong desire for changes in these countries.
We have always stressed in our work with our partners that they have made a fundamental choice, that is based on values, in setting the European Union accession as their national goal that unites the people, the institutions and the region – maybe one of the few things that unites the region, also with the remarkable phenomenon of the region supporting the process for all the neighbours.
By making this choice, both political leaders and citizens chose to engage in serious, comprehensive and convincing reforms in very important, crucial areas for the society, first of all on the rule of law, including the fight against corruption and organised crime, and also on economic reforms, competitiveness, as well as on regional cooperation and reconciliation.
I often say that the enlargement policy in a region like the Balkans brings us back to the DNA of the European Union integration process at its very first steps, overcoming the wounds of war that is still recent, and using integration in the European Union as a fundamental tool after a conflict.
A tremendous work was done to assess objectively the progress made. I want to thank all the teams, both in Brussels and in the region, that have worked impressively to produce these reports. The preparation of these reports is an inclusive process and they not only take into account contributions from the authorities, but also from civil society and a number of other partners. I will let Commissioner Hahn debrief you of the details obviously, but I would like to underline a few points.
First, over the last years and in particular in the past year, the European Union has invested enormously across the Western Balkans, including through the adoption of the Western Balkans Strategy, the [EU-Western Balkans] Sofia Summit as well as with, not only our usual visits in the region but also a number of other high-level engagements.
We have witnessed a number of achievements and successes which are impressive. North Macedonia and Albania, in particular, have embraced the opportunity and delivered on the reforms. The historic Prespa agreement ending the name dispute with Greece and strengthening good neighbourly relations, as has also been done with Bulgaria, is something we all value, recognise and acknowledge as an historic game-changer, not only for the country but for the region. In Albania, in particular, let me stress that the impressive implementation of the deep and ambitious justice reform has continued steadily and the re-evaluation of all judges and prosecutors is delivering tangible results. I was recently visiting Tirana for the Leaders' Summit and was impressed by the in Europe highest level of support for the European Union among the public opinion in the country.
On the basis of a strict and fair assessment, this year for the second time, the Commission recommends opening of negotiations with Albania and with North Macedonia. This is a recommendation based on a solid assessment as you will be able to see from the report. North Macedonia and Albania have done their part of the work; now it is the European Union's turn to fulfil its part. Now obviously, after our recommendation, the ball is in the Council's court.
We also issue today the Commission's Opinion on Bosnia and Herzegovina’s application for membership of the European Union. In this context, the Commission specifies a number of detailed priorities in the field of democracy, rule of law, fundamental rights and public administration reform that are needed for the country to move forward towards the candidate status and then opening of negotiations. It is also clear, as I have had the opportunity together with Commissioner Hahn to discuss with the leadership of the country, that the formation of the government remains key.
Finally, I will say a word on Turkey, and then pass the floor to Commissioner Hahn, which remains a candidate country, a key partner and a strategically important neighbour for the European Union, also given its proximity to a very volatile Middle East, whose stability is a key priority for both of us. The Turkish government states its commitment to European Union accession but we see the country continues to move further away from the European Union. We believe it would be beneficial for all and in particular for the Turkish citizens if this trend is reversed urgently, which we will obviously always welcome.
We also emphasize the importance of good neighbourly relations and avoiding tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean, and you have seen my recent statements in particular on this issue.
To conclude, let me stress that this package passes a number of important messages, not only to our partners but also to ourselves. It underlines the need for the Union to live up to its commitments and give credit where credit is due. We are at a crossroads, we always say that it is a merit-based process so when merit is assessed, as positive it needs to be acknowledged.
Failure to recognise and respond to objective progress, I believe, we believe, would damage the European Union’s credibility throughout the region and beyond. Not rewarding historic achievements in particular and also substantial reforms would undermine stability and seriously discourage further reforms. In particular, it would introduce an element of disillusion, especially in the young population that is so supportive of the European Union perspective of their countries and of the European Union as such.
Over the past almost five years we have seen results in the Western Balkans that seemed completely impossible to achieve when our mandate started. It has been the result of a collective work we have done together here in Brussels and in the Balkans, thanks also to a new generation of leaders across the party line in the region. Our collective responsibility today is to make these changes irreversible, to the benefit of the region but also of the European Union.
Link to the opening remarks: https://audiovisual.ec.europa.eu/en/video/I-173348
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