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European Commission

Štefan Füle

European Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighbourhood Policy

Boosting Serbia’s and Kosovo’s European future

Joint debate Balkans / progress reports, European Parliament, Plenary Session

15 January 2013

President, Honourable Members, Ladies and Gentlemen,

100 years ago, a spark in the Balkans ignited a war that engulfed Europe in chaos and devastation. Ever since then, our collective memory has too often associated the Balkans with unrest and conflict.

By contrast, over the past months, the news from the Balkans is about renewed dialogue, increased intra-regional trade and building of bridges.

It is Serbia and Kosovo's European aspirations that played a central role in their desire to engage in the normalisation of their relations.

The “First agreement of principles governing the normalisation” has improved relations between Serbia and Kosovo and has led already to a number of important, positive developments on the ground, particularly in the north of Kosovo. A key milestone was passed last autumn with the holding of local elections for the first time throughout Kosovo.

I therefore concur with both Rapporteurs and commend the two Prime Ministers for their remarkable efforts towards normalisation in the past year. We look forward to these efforts continuing with equal determination in 2014 and also to continuing engagement of the High Representative/Vice-President of the Commission Catherine Ashton without whom such progress would have been hardly achieved.

I definitely share the Rapporteurs' conclusions that Serbia and Kosovo fully deserve to take the next step forward on their respective paths to the European Union.

Following the decisions of the Council last June on Serbia and Kosovo, I was particularly pleased when Council adopted last month the negotiating framework for Serbia and allowed for the first Inter-Governmental Conference, which will take place on 21 January.

European Union has shown that it can inspire others to follow its very model of reconciliation amongst its peoples. Serbia and Kosovo, I am confident, can inspire further positive change in those parts of the Western Balkans where progress is lagging behind.

On Serbia, let me thank Rapporteur, Mr Jelko Kacin, for his report which is well in line with the findings of our 16 October Progress report. The European Parliament will adopt this resolution at a most appropriate moment, just days before a new phase begins in the relations between the European Union and Serbia, with first Inter-Governmental Conference taking place on 21 January.

On Kosovo, I am pleased to inform you that its European perspective is taking shape.

I welcome the draft resolution on the European Integration Process and I would like to thank Rapporteur, Ms Ulrike Lunacek, for her report. As confirmed in our Progress Report of 16 October, Kosovo needs to continue its reforms so that it can meet its obligations under the Stabilisation and Association Agreement.

The negotiations on the Stabilisation and Association Agreement are going very well.

In December, the Council acknowledged our intention to conclude the negotiations in the course of 2014. We are committed to continue to work very closely with the Kosovo side, Member States and the European Parliament to ensure that the negotiations will be as efficient and productive as possible. It is also fundamentally important for Kosovo to address priorities in Rule of Law through the Structured Dialogue and to continue its good cooperation with EULEX.

President, Honourable Members,

Since they started their integration process with us, both Serbia and Kosovo have advanced significantly in their internal reform process. And their agreement from April is a landmark for the whole region. It is essential that both Serbia and Kosovo continue in the dialogue, continue tackling new challenges and continue the reform process of their societies. It is important that, together with them, we keep the positive momentum of last year.

Thank you for your attention.

Closing remarks

President, Honourable Members,

I am grateful for your support for the accession negotiations process between the European Union and Serbia. This represents a strong evidence of the European Union's commitment to Serbia's European future. In the negotiations, I will continue paying particular attention to Serbia delivering on:

• the continuing normalisation of its relations with Kosovo;

• the rule of law, particularly reform of the judiciary and the fight against corruption and organised crime;

• the effective implementation of legislation on the protection of minorities and on anti-discrimination;

• Serbia's contribution to regional cooperation and improved relations with its neighbours; and

• the implementation of Serbia's commitments under the Stabilisation and Association Agreement.

Thank you also for your continuing support for our work on Kosovo. It is essential that we maintain the positive momentum created by the 'April Agreement', the start of the Stabilisation and Association Agreement negotiations, and the successful local elections. It all depends on delivery. Kosovo needs to:

• deliver on normalisation of its relations with Serbia;

• continue its cooperation with EULEX and its possible successor mission;

• continue to work on the priorities indicated in our feasibility study of 2012, notably on electoral reform, rule of law, the judiciary, public administration, human and fundamental rights and the protection of minorities; and

• implement reforms necessary for visa liberalisation.

But the European Union also needs to deliver. Once the negotiations on the Stabilisation and Association Agreement are completed, we need a positive response from this House and our Member States. The agreement will be good for Kosovo, for the region, and for the European Union. Equally, once Kosovo meets the visa liberalisation benchmarks, the visa regime needs to be lifted.

There has been a number of concrete suggestions in this debate and some questions. Let me specifically tackle two of them:

First one on the preparation of the candidate countries to be competitive as far as their economies are concerned, not 2 or 5 years after the EU entry but at the time of joining. In our last Enlargement Strategy the European Commission suggested for the first time to create European Semester Light helping them through specific EU policies, coordination and support, to tackle the reforms, restructuring their economies, stimulate growth and employment from the early stages of the accession negotiations and not to wait only for the time of EU membership.

Second question concerning the plea to help Western Balkan countries to try to come to terms with their past. I will do my best in the remaining time in office, but you have seen me the last four years trying to deliver on policies which would create conditions exactly for that. We have changed the approach in accession negotiations to focus on fundamentals. The new approach on Chapters 23 and 24 will be establishing well-functioning democracy, conditions for thriving civil society and strong environment for fundamental rights and freedoms. These are the conditions for countries to come to terms with their past. We tried to do more to create conditions for cooperation with the ICTY, to create conditions for candidates and aspirant countries to cooperate regionally, supported Sarajevo process and number of other initiatives to create conditions for that.

May I also say, this is probably our last joint debate based on Progress reports on Serbia and Kosovo. If I look back at the beginning of our debates and results of your support, your steering, your help and not only as a House, institution but also through personal commitment of many of you, your passionate commitment to the enlargement in general and to specific countries, let me thank you for that cooperation, for what we have achieved together under your leadership, particularly on Kosovo and Serbia.

I look forward to your continued support.

Thank you.

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