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Stefan Füle

European Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighbourhood

Opening remarks in EP debate on Serbia

European Parliament, Brussels

Brussels, 28 March 2012

President, Honourable Members,

It is a great pleasure and honour for me to participate in today's debate on the European integration process of Serbia, not least since Serbia was granted candidate status by the European Council at the beginning of the month.

I am most grateful to the Rapporteur, Mr Jelko Kacin, for having outlined comprehensively and accurately the many achievements, as well as the challenges lying ahead of Serbia.

That Serbia was granted candidate status owes

- first to the determination and vision of the Serbian leadership,

- secondly the priority given by all Serbian state institutions to the EU reform agenda and

- thirdly their increasing efficiency in adopting and implementing key reforms, notably under the political criteria.

At the pinnacle of these achievements were the significant and consistent efforts of President Tadic to deliver on cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and to foster a new spirit of cooperation and reconciliation in the region, including by effectively engaging in the Belgrade/Pristina dialogue.

We have now arrived at a major turning point in our relations with Serbia. Together with the forthcoming entry into force of the Stabilisation and Association Agreement, these relations have been brought to a much higher level.

I am confident that this will generate a new impetus for reforms and a new wind of change within all Serbian institutions. Ultimately, it gives a far better prospect for the Serbian citizens who are eager to live in a country where democracy and the rule of law prevail while its economy recovers and develops in the best possible environment.

President, Honourable Members,

2011 was an important year for Serbia, a year of demanding challenges. 2012 will equally be paramount as Serbia is eager to open accession negotiations. Qualifying for that major step will be the first task of the incoming government after the 6 May elections.

There is serious work ahead for Serbia if the Commission is to recommend opening accession negotiations in its next progress report.

- First of all, Serbia is expected to deliver on the key priority, to make further progress towards a visible and sustainable improvement of relations with Kosovo. This means in particular that Serbia needs to implement - and stick to the letter and spirit of - all agreements reached to date in the dialogue with Pristina.

- Second. We will need to see the momentum of reforms continuing in order to confirm that Serbia sufficiently fulfils the political criteria.

We are determined to continue our engagement with Serbia. As much as the objective and criteria are clearly defined, I have strong faith in Serbia's capacity to mobilise itself and achieve the necessary additional progress to move towards accession negotiations. This will allow the negotiation process to push reforms and tackle even the most difficult challenges lying ahead.

I am convinced that with our joint support, Serbia will continue to embrace its European future. This will bear a positive message for the whole region, in order to consolidate peace and foster economic prosperity in the Western Balkans.

Thank you.

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