International conference titled Great enlargement – Lessons for the Western Balkans was held in organization of the Forum for International Relations of the European Movement in Serbia. National consensus on the issue of accession to the European Union as a crucial element of European integration in Serbia and other Western Balkan countries is the conclusion of the conference. Participants from Europe and the region emphasized the importance of communication of European integration process, rights and obligations, in order to build support and prepare for the EU membership.
The Secretary General of the European Movement in Serbia, Suzana Grubješić, opened the conference, recalling the fifteenth anniversary of the big bang, when ten countries joined the European Union. She pointed out that the EU has changed in the meantime, under the influence of various internal and external factors, such as the economic crisis, the migrant crisis and Brexit.
“The European Union is constantly changing; it is a flexible mechanism which, because of these challenges, has changed the approach to negotiations with candidates who are still in the process of accession,” added Grubjesic.
When it comes to Serbia’s progress along the EU path, Grubješić pointed out to slow progress in Chapter 35 that is the lack of dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina, as well as fragile rule of law, in Chapters 23 and 24.
“If there is no progress in the dialogue leading to the Belgrade-Pristina agreement, we cannot expect to accelerate the integration process,” concluded Grubješić.
The Head of the European Union Delegation in Serbia, Ambassador Sem Fabrizi, assessed the EU enlargement policy as one of the most successful EU policies. He said reforms should provide a full transition to democracy, security, media freedom, investment etc.
“Accession is a process in which the country is able to take on the rights and obligations of membership” in the EU, said Fabrizi. He added that, for this reason, reforms must be credible and sustainable, not only in the accession process, but also after the membership, so that the country can participate in the functioning of the Union.
Ambassador Fabrizi emphasized necessity of development, cooperation and reconciliation in the region, because citizens are the ones who should be the carriers of the process of enlargement.
The first panel was dedicated to the experiences of the countries that joined the European Union in the previous waves of enlargement, in the period 2004-2013. Romanian Ambassador in Serbia, H.E. Oana Popa, restated that Romania remains one of the most important supporters of the EU enlargement policy and expressed support to Serbia in that process.
Croatian Ambassador, H.E. Gordan Bakota, spoke about Croatia as the first country in the region which will chair the European Council, six years after it became a member of the EU, and that the Croatian presidency will coincide with the formation of a new European Commission. He believes that the role of Croatia is to insist on the European perspective of the Western Balkans. Bakota emphasized communication with citizens as the biggest challenge for every country that is in the process of enlargement.
Charge d’Affaires of the Polish Embassy in Serbia, Andžej Kindjuk, said that since accession, Poland has been one of the fastest developing countries seen as a growth in GDP, and that it is the largest user of European funds, especially in the field of agriculture and regional development. He concluded that the engagement of Poland, as the country that chairs the Berlin Process, will give additional value to the process of enlargement of the Western Balkans.
For the former head of the Serbian mission to the EU, Duško Lopandić, the integration of Central and Eastern Europe is the largest European success, beside the post-war reconciliation of Germany and France. According to his words, enlargement is “an indicator of further optimism and vitality of the EU, which would make it unreasonable for this issue to be removed from the agenda.”
Professor Dragan Đukanović pointed out that tempo of enlargement to the Western Balkans depends on the dynamics of EU internal transformation. He also pointed to the exclusionary views in this public opinion that mark this integration path.
Deputy Head of the EU Delegation to Serbia, Mateja Norčić-Štamcar, explained that the conditioning policy remained the cornerstone of EU accession, referring to the Copenhagen criteria that clearly defined the modality of accession the Union. This is important, she said, because it establishes clear rules of the game and a precise map of the path the state should do in this process. Norčić-Štamcar emphasized in particular the transformative role and relevance of these criteria, because they point to what exactly is going to be discussed.
“Enlargement to the Western Balkans is at the same time a political necessity and opportunity,” she concluded.
Vice President of the European Movement in Serbia, Vladimir Međak, pointed out that the process of accession and transformation of the European Union is mutually conditioned. He hopes tempo of enlargement – one enlargement per decade, will continue. He also added that “it is not up to enlargement, but to the candidate.”
“Good news from Serbia and the Western Balkans must begin to come, and then support for European integration in Serbia will increase”, he added.
The conference was organized within the EnlargEUrope project, co-financed by the European Union through the Europe for Citizens Programme.