Given that the Western Balkan region is an integral part of Europe, the European Union must offer its countries a credible outlook for joining the bloc, the European commissioner for enlargement and neighbourhood policy said on Tuesday.
Addressing a session of the European Parliament’s foreign affairs committee, Olivér Várhelyi urged accession talks with Albania and North Macedonia to be opened as soon as possible.
the two countries had done everything required of them, adding that the EU had a duty to start the accession talks.
At the same time, he urged dialogue with member states that still had reservations about the bloc’s enlargement.
Várhelyi said the importance of integrating the Western Balkan region must not be questioned. The new European Commission will assign even greater importance to the issue of enlargement and will work to enhance the policy’s credibility, he added.
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He said it was regrettable that EU leaders had failed to reach an agreement at the October summit on starting the accession talks with Albania and North Macedonia. Varhelyi vowed to support the EC’s efforts to start the talks with both countries.
Meanwhile, he said that next month the EC will unveil its plans for speeding up the accession talks, adding that the commission wants the General Affairs Council to be in a position to greenlight the talks by March. The commissioner said it was important that the EU send a positive message to the Western Balkan countries before next May’s EU-Western Balkan summit in Zagreb.
Varhelyi said the EU should help speed up the implementation of reforms in the region’s candidate countries.
The European Commission places great emphasis on the observance of the rule of law, economic growth, democratic institutions and the reform of public institutions, he said. Meeting these criteria and a strong political commitment are crucial to a future EU membership, Varhelyi added.
He also said it was important for all of the region’s candidate countries to join the European Green Deal, the Digital Agenda for Europe as well as the bloc’s shipping and energy network, arguing that doing so would enhance growth and create jobs. It would also allow the candidate countries to enjoy the benefits of those policies without having to wait to become full-fledged EU members, he added.
But the EU must also do its part so that it is ready to take on the new members once they meet all the criteria, Varhelyi said.
He said accession talks that were already under way needed to continue, with the accession criteria remaining unchanged. He warned, however, that if the EU failed to keep its word and speed up the integration process, it would lose its credibility.