Speech in the conference on “Serbia preparing for starting EU accession talks”
I am very pleased to welcome President Boris Tadic and for the opportunity to address him here at the European Parliament. Boris has been the President of Serbia through difficult and amazing times. We all know his personal contribution to the building of democracy in Serbia and the substantial progress achieved under his political guidance. His efforts for the reconciliation of the Western Balkans and the integration of Serbia have recently recognised with the attribution to him of a prize of the Council of Europe; so I don’t think I have to add much on that.
My political group and this Parliament as a whole have been staunch supporters of Serbia’s membership, in line with the promise given ten years ago in Thessaloniki to all countries of the Western Balkans. However, we have to admit that mainly due to the economic crisis, but also because of contradictions coming from the region, enthusiasm about enlargement has faded.
We continue, however, to insist, and we have done so also with my report on Enlargement, that Enlargement has to remain in the toolbox of the EU and that it needs to be a credible policy, meaning that there should be no doubt that the fulfilment of the accession criteria will lead to membership. This credibility is a crucial element, strictly related to the notion of EU conditionality: if we want, indeed, to preserve the EU the capacity to foster positive transformation in the candidate countries, we need a strict, but also fair and credible conditionality.
The changes which have been taking place in Serbia over the past years under your guidance are the best proof of the EU enlargement policy’s efficiency. The goal of EU accession was the key motivation behind reforms and moves on Kosovo. The country needs to be firmly and unequivocally committed to the EU’s integration process and is good that also the new government continues on the same path that you, dear Boris, and the Democratic Party have paved.
This is for us a one way road and I believe, that it is broadly understood that concrete steps in the reform agenda and tangible results in the dialogue with Pristina are needed to the open the accession negotiations by summer and for further developments in the EU-Serbia relations. We have to acknowledge that the new government has given concrete signs of commitment to reforms, dealing with corruption or even moving on with the Kosovo issue. It would be useful therefore to have a comment by Boris on this.
This year’s report of the European Parliament, and I want to thank the rapporteur Jelko Kacin for this, is the most positive in years for Serbia and provides unequivocal support for the country’s objective to open negotiations in June. The report maintains the right balance: it recognises progress where it has been achieved and points out the deficiencies and challenges that have to be dealt by the Serbian authorities in the immediate future.
The main challenges are:
a) to provide a good track-record in the fight against corruption, but in the right manner – that is to avoid political exploitation and to ensure proper dealing of the individual cases;
b) to proceed with the normalisation of relation with Kosovo. The ongoing direct dialogue makes us optimistic about this;
c) to further improve the living conditions of minorities, including the Roma and the LGBT people;
and d) to deal with the economic situation of the country, the high unemployment, the continuously increasing public debt, and the gaps in legislation governing the social dialogue and the registration of Trade Unions.