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European Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighbourhood Policy
Remarks at the press conference following the General Affairs Council on Enlargement
General Affairs Council
Brussels, 11 December 2012
With these conclusions the EU has stated clearly that even at a time of major challenges, we cannot afford to lose momentum of enlargement. The policy of combining deeper integration with enlargement continues to reinforce peace, democracy and stability in Europe – as was recognised just yesterday at the Nobel peace prize ceremony in Oslo.
I am pleased that the Ministers have endorsed the main themes of this year's enlargement package, in particular putting the rule of law at the centre of enlargement policy. Through this we are telling a new story of enlargement. And it is not only having a theme, but also a policy to back up that theme: starting the accession negotiations by opening chapters related to the rule of law, fundamental rights, freedoms, judiciary and closing them only at the end of the whole process.
This was a dynamic year for enlargement: Croatia on its way to join the EU, Montenegro starting negotiations, Serbia becoming a candidate country. With these conclusions there is a good perspective for the next year to keep the momentum:
- On one side defining key challenges and reforms the enlargement countries need to address.
- On the other side showing the willingness of the EU to move them forward on the EU path, once they fulfil the necessary conditions. This also underlines the credibility of enlargement.
Now to some country specific conclusions:
Turkey – These Council conclusions provide for a new momentum in EU-Turkey relations.
The Positive Agenda has delivered many elements to put the accession process back on track. Since we launched it, we have made good progress in areas of common interest. One of them is visa issues, where a visa roadmap has been finalised with the ultimate objective of visa free entry for Turkish citizens. I hope we can soon hand this roadmap over to Turkey - in parallel to the signature of the Readmission Agreement.
There are still a number of challenges to address, in particular in the area of fundamental rights and with respect to Cyprus. I remain of the opinion that we need active and credible accession negotiations to achieve the full potential of EU-Turkey relations. And I am glad that this is reflected in this year's Council conclusions.
Looking forward, we have all elements in place to create a new momentum in EU-Turkey relations. Now both sides need to make every effort for this to become a reality and to sustain such momentum through concrete steps. Time for symbols is over, now we need substance.
Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia – here I particularly welcome the positive Council conclusions. This constitutes a significant breakthrough in relations between the EU and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and moves us on from the static language of the last four years.
The Council has recognised the hard work and substantial reform progress that has been made throughout the year within the framework of the High Level Accession Dialogue (HLAD).
The breadth of discussion at the Council and level of engagement with the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia demonstrate the genuine interest that Member States take to advance the country on the European path. The conclusions have set out a very real and attainable perspective for the opening of accession negotiations in the very near future.
Looking, ahead, the Commission will start working on the report that the Council has tasked us to prepare.
It is essential in this respect that momentum be maintained in all areas so that the country can meet its full potential and so that accession negotiations can be opened in Summer 2013.
Let me underline that I hope this new and ambitious language will be taken and understood as opportunity to find a mutually acceptable solution to the name issue and to close this chapter which was left open for too long to the detriment of the people of the countries in that region.
Serbia – Conclusions are good news for Belgrade – there is a rendezvous clause for the first half of the next year, with a view to possible decision on the opening of accession negotiations. A few points on this:
1. Current Serbian government has been brave to take difficult decisions in the dialogue with Pristina. This time, there is no mismatch between words and deeds: IBM technical protocol is being implemented on the ground.
2. The resolute commitment has to continue – today's appreciation comes together with clarity of agenda for next rounds of the dialogue, and with the reminder about implementation of the agreements reached to date.
3. Council endorsed the comprehensive approach with clear definition of what normalisation of relations with Kosovo means: improving the relations so that both can continue on their respective European paths, while avoiding that either can block the other in these efforts with the prospect of both being able to fully exercise their rights and fulfil their responsibilities.
4. Council also shared the Commission's assessment that Serbia continues on its way to sufficiently fulfilling the political criteria and conditions of the Stabilisation and Association Process.
5. Commission stands ready to confirm that accession negotiations should be opened with Serbia once the sufficient progress is achieved towards visible and sustainable improvement of relations with Kosovo – and I very much hope this can be achieved already next June.
Kosovo: More good news from the Council. Conclusions clearly confirm that Kosovo is being put in the mainstream of the enlargement process. Again, let me make a few points:
1) The conclusions confirm that Kosovo has a real prospect of opening negotiations on a Stabilisation and Association Agreement once it has met the short term priorities identified in the feasibility study.
2) The conclusions also confirm that the Commission will negotiate a framework agreement with Kosovo on its participation in EU programmes so that this agreement could be endorsed by the Council in the first half of next year.
3) The conclusions commend efforts made by Kosovo to engage in the EU facilitated dialogue with Belgrade, and encourage it to take further steps towards the normalisation of relations with Belgrade.
4) I very much hope that the short term conditions will be met quickly and that there will be further progress in the Belgrade-Pristina Dialogue so that the Council can agree for us to start negotiations for an SAA during the next Presidency.
Albania – the Council conclusions send the right message to Albania – both of acknowledgment for the hard work done so far and strong encouragement to all political parties and other stakeholders to remain focused on European integration and on the reform process.
The doors to the EU remain open and the Conclusions show the way for Albania to continue progressing towards its European integration goal. Albania will have to keep the reform momentum leading to the completion of the measures required for the Council to consider granting the candidate status.
We will report to the Council on the progress achieved as soon as the Albanian politicians make it possible for us. I call on all Albanian politicians to strengthen the dialogue and not to allow the European agenda to become a hostage of their particular political interests.
To conclude let me say what an excellent and constructive Presidency this was delivering on enlargement.