Varehelyi: The enlargement process remains a key EU policy

Varehelyi: The enlargement process remains a key EU policy

No change in negotiations with Serbia-Montenegro

Following the successful completion of the first phase of the accession process of North Macedonia and Albania – after receiving the “green light to kickstart negotiations” – the European Commission is now working on the annual reports and the economic agenda for the Western Balkan countries, European Neighborhood and Enlargement Commissioner Oliver Varhelyi announced.

“We are all focused on tackling the virus to save lives, supporting the health sector and mitigating the socio-economic impact, to avoid even more devastating consequences. However, our main tasks continue, and I expect this year’s EU enlargement package to be presented in June”, he told EWB.

He stated that the EU is in close contact with all its partners in the Western Balkans regarding the coronavirus crisis, “because we want to help as much as we can”.

“Our partners have taken all necessary steps to resolve the crisis, knowing that they need to be effective and proportionate. We have seen that some of the measures taken have to be adjusted because this crisis does not follow a script. It’s clear we can only win together, and that remains our focus”, he said.

He also noted that the EU responded quickly after the crisis erupted among member-states, which constituted the epicenter of the pandemic at the time.

“We have provided immediate assistance to the entire region by allocating more than 700 million euros. We have provided € 38 million for immediate needs, such as financing medical equipment or transporting purchased medical equipment. We have prepared bilateral packages, diverting funds that would otherwise not be used for a total value of more than 374 million euros. And that will be supplemented by additional regional support amounting to 290m euros”, he explained.

The countries in the middle of accession negotiations also have access to the Solidarity Fund, which, for example, helped Serbia when it was struck by heavy flooding. We are also discussing opportunities to provide macroeconomic financial assistance to the region’s budgets. I think all this comprises a very specific expression of solidarity which Serbia acknowledges, Varheliy noted.

“We are doing everything we can to support the Western Balkans and I welcome the fact that China is also assisting. Europe has previously backed China in the fight against coronavirus. It is clear that this is a global crisis that requires a global response”, he stressed, noting that while other countries are also active in the region and are trying to exert their influence, “the Western Balkans have made a clear choice that their future lies with the EU; where they belong”.

Regarding the new enlargement methodology, Varhelyi said that by revising the methodology for the enlargement process and deciding to start accession negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia, the EU has restored its enlargement policy.

“We have restored its credibility, not only in the Western Balkans but also among our Member States”, he underlined, noting that the enlargement process remains one of the European Union’s key policies.

Speaking about Serbia and Montenegro which have already commenced negotiations, Varhelyi said both new methodologies have been accepted positively.

“One thing is clear: there will be no change in the negotiation framework between the two countries. Negotiations have progressed and the rules of the game cannot be changed whilst the game is already in progress. However, there are many benefits that derive from the new methodology. Changes, for example, in grouping can be placed in existing contexts, with the consent of the two countries. With the approval of the methodology, you will see its implementation, including the annual report package”, Varhelyi concluded at the EWB. /ibna