Zovko: “IPA III is more than a tool, it is a high-level engagement to get the WB6 on track for European accession”
Strasbourg, 14 September 2021
Ahead of the final adoption of the Instrument of Pre-accession Assistance by the European Parliament, the members held a debate in the plenary session in Strasbourg. The new financial instrument is the main tool in the European enlargement policy to assist candidate and potential candidate countries with their reform agenda towards European integration.
“The adoption and signing of the new regulation on the Instrument for Pre-accession Assistance – or IPA III – is a clear confirmation of the EU’s support to the European integration of our partners in South East Europe,” said co-rapporteur for the report Željana Zovko, who participated in the inter-institutional negotiations on the new resolution. She added that IPA III offers a historic budget of more than 14 billion euros for the next seven years and an additional 20 billion euros in investments can be expected through the support of the Western Balkans guarantee facility. Zovko explained that new features of the regulation aimed to improve the efficiency of the funding, such as the performance-based approach and the allocation of finances via thematic windows stimulates, and highlighted the increased role of the European Parliament in scrutiny and programming of the financial assistance.
“With the adoption of IPA III, the EU has done its homework. We are ready to engage with the Western Balkans and Turkey. The ball is now in the court of the authorities of the beneficiaries. They need to show the willingness and courage to work on the necessary reforms and to comply with the Copenhagen criteria and European standards and values,” Zovko stated. She added that leaders in the partner states should understand that making progress on their reform agenda, starts with stabilising the internal situation in their country and finding a solution for pending problems. the MEP referred to the need for a breakthrough on the election law in Bosnia and Herzegovina and to the rising tensions in Montenegro that have resulted in violent protests related to the freedom of belief two weeks ago. “These are serious problems that can hijack the integration procedure,” Zovko stressed. “Other countries see a strong decline in respect of human rights and the implementation of the rule of law. We should not allow financial support to countries that claim to be European-minded, but use the funding for other purposes. IPA III contains a clear conditionality, including the possibility to suspend assistance in case of severe political and democratic backsliding,” she added.
Further, Zovko referred to the lessons learned exercise that is ongoing of the EU’s policies to Afghanistan over the last 20 years. “Fortunately, thanks to their transformative process that started in 1999, The Western Balkans are still holding high hopes for European integration. But, as I once said, the region is a rollercoaster and everything can change if we don’t start the lessons learned exercise here as well. What went wrong? What can we improve? How can we help the people to resolve the unresolved issues?”
The priority, according to Zovko, is to prevent turbulence that might have a spill over effect on EU citizens and our peace and security. “IPA III is the tool, but more important it is a high level engagement to get the Western Balkans on track to European accession.” she added and concluded by calling on the authorities of the beneficiaries to use this new positive momentum to prepare ambitious national strategies and to enhance their engagement with the EU by improving their ownership of the accession reforms.