Zovko’s contribution to the adopted Western Balkan reports call for the respect for minority languages, protection of the borders and better alignment with European foreign affairs
Brussels, 26 March 2021
Members of the European Parliament adopted four reports on Western Balkan countries during the plenary session this week. These reports on Albania, Kosovo, North Macedonia and Serbia respond to the Commission’s annual enlargement package in which it assesses the progress in the candidate and potential candidate countries in the last two year. As a general message, the MEPs call for a continued focus on fundamental reforms, stepping up the fight against corruption and the improvement of good neighbourly relations.
Vice-Chair of the Committee on Foreign Affairs Željana Zovko stated that it is in the benefit of the European Union and the Western Balkan countries to advance on the enlargement agenda. “The momentum created last year by the Croatian presidency of the EU Council should not go in vain due to the lack of commitment by of the parties. This can be a great year of progress for the region.” Zovko highlighted that she welcomes the call of the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of Croatia and Romania, Gordan Grlić Radman and Bogdan Aurescu. To stimulate the enlargement process, they propose to organise a comprehensive, strategic debate on the Western Balkans in the next Council meeting EU Foreign Ministers.
The report on Albania calls for the start of the accession negotiations without any further delay and, thanks to Zovko’s amendment, emphasises the importance of the integration process as a catalyst for reforms. Zovko also added that free and fair elections are fundamental for EU integration and the report underlines that the general elections in April 2021 will be key for the consolidation and renewal of the country’s democratic procedures. Another part of the report stresses that border protection and the prevention of cross-border crime must be a priority and must be conducted in full respect for fundamental rights. In this light, Zovko contributed to the text by welcoming the launch of the first fully-fledged joint operation with the European Border and Coast Guard.
On North Macedonia, MEPs state the country has made consistent progress and is maintaining a steady pace in adopting EU reforms. Zovko’s amendments recall the importance of continued dialogue to achieve sustainable results in the implementation in good faith of bilateral agreements and welcome the appointment of North Macedonia’s Special Representative for Bulgaria. She also reiterated that the EU is by far North Macedonia’s largest trading partner, accounting for 75 % of the country’s exports and 62 % of its imports.
Members also commended Kosovo’s population for the strong support for European integration and its European identity and at the same time urge the Kosovar and Serbian governments to refrain from any action that could undermine trust between the respective parties. The Kosovo report also calls on the Council to urgently proceed with the adoption of a visa-free regime for the citizens of Kosovo. Thanks to Zovko’s amendments, the text calls on Kosovo to provide equal and non-discriminatory state education in minority languages and to ensure access to official documents in all official languages across Kosovo, as well as equal opportunities, adequate representation in political life, and access to public administration and judiciary.
The final report, on Serbia, also calls for continued dialogue between the governments in Belgrade and Pristina. As proposed by Zovko, the text also notes the disproportionate visibility given to third countries in Serbia and calls on Serbia, the Commission and the EU delegation to Serbia to step up their efforts in promoting the role and benefits of the close partnership between EU and Serbia. This includes the promotion of EU funded projects and reforms. Zovko also ensured that the report calls on Serbia to provide for and protect non-discriminatory use of minority languages and to align itself with the European security policies.