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Are Things Different This Time?

David McAllister, MEP

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The European Union must signal consistently that more Western Balkan countries should become member states, while being unequivocal in insisting on all enlargement criteria

With David McAllister having secured another term in the European Parliament, we took the opportunity to interview him about the elections’ impact on the Western Balkans’ prospects of accelerating its EU accession. McAllister, an MEP since 2014 and current vice president of the European People’s Party, has chaired the European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee since February 2017. His previous experience as EP Rapporteur for Serbia, from 2014 to 2019, provides invaluable insights into the evolving accession process from the perspectives of both the EU and the Western Balkans, shedding light on the current momentum of enlargement.

Given the changes brought by the European Parliament elections, do you think the EU’s overall approach to the Western Balkans will be impacted?

― The pro-European, pro-enlargement political centre continues to hold a substantial majority of seats in the coming European Parliament. The European People’s Party (EPP) won the European elections convincingly. Together with the S&D and the Liberals, we will continue to work towards the orderly enlargement of our European Union and the further strengthening of our relations with the Western Balkans.

Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine has given new momentum to the enlargement process and underscored the importance of a consistent effort on the part of the countries of the Western Balkans to align their laws and policies with the European Union. The main challenges continue to lie in fundamental reforms, strengthening the rule of law, democratic culture and institutional resilience, as well as policy alignment – including with the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy.

The government should pursue an active and effective communications strategy with regard to the benefits of EU accession

Merit and conditionality are, and will continue to be, the guiding principles of the enlargement process. There can be no cutting corners. However, there is no question among the majority in the European Parliament that enlargement is a vital tool for peace, democracy, security, stability, prosperity and the EU’s role in the world.

As former EP Rapporteur for Serbia, from 2014 to 2019, what do you see as the major changes in mutual relations between the Western Balkans and the EU that have since occurred?

― Before the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine, we witnessed a certain enlargement fatigue that was neither beneficial for the EU nor our Western Balkan partners. However, since 2022, there has been a resurging interest in the further European integration of the Western Balkans. I understand the frustration felt by many in the Western Balkans that the accession process is taking up so much time. The European Union must not tire of sending a clear signal that more Western Balkan countries should ultimately become member states. At the same time, we need to be unequivocal in our insistence on all enlargement criteria. EU accession is a merit-based process. Each country will be considered on an individual basis – without preferential treatment or double standards.

Unresolved bilateral grievances between some Western Balkan states are a hurdle in the accession process. In some cases, reform progress was not fast enough, while we also witnessed some backsliding on democratic standards and the rule of law. In addition, not all Western Balkan countries are fully aligned with the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy. These aspects need to be addressed.

The ongoing enlargement debate has not only highlighted the need for good preparation within potential member states, but also within the EU

The ongoing enlargement debate has not only highlighted the need for good preparation within potential member states, but also within the EU itself. We need to adapt our institutions’ structures and decision-making procedures to be able to accommodate new members. This requires equal political commitment.

Is the Growth Plan for the Western Balkans an accelerator that will help the region reconnect with its EU future or will it, as some critics suggest, fall short of its grander goals due to the modest amount of funding relative to the region’s needs?

― The Growth Plan certainly has the potential to accelerate economic development and integration. In light of the considerable technical and financial assistance provided to accession countries over the years, genuine political will to move forward – both in the current and in future member states – is the underlying key to success.

The Reform and Growth Facility, which is a centrepiece of the Growth Plan, provides an additional six billion euros. This is a considerable amount that is added to the already existing funds of the Instrument for Pre-Accession (IPA III), which accounts for €14.2 billion to the Western Balkans and Turkey. Accordingly, the Reform Agendas that need to be prepared under the framework of the Western Balkans Facility are vital for the success of the Growth Plan.

INTEGRATION

There has been a resurging interest in the further European integration of the Western Balkans since 2022.

WARNING

Beijing is not primarily concerned with creating sustainable advantages for the Western Balkans, but with generating profits for Chinese companies.

CONVERGENCE

The Reform and Growth Facility for the Western Balkans aims to boost integration into the European single market, accelerating socio-economic convergence.

Etienne Thobois, Paris 2024 CEO

Olympics Legacy: Paris 2024 Vision

Jakov Milatović, President of Montenegro

Montenegro to Join the EU by 2028

Leena Ylä-Mononen, Executive Director of the European Environment Agency

Shared Values and Commitment

Majlinda Bregu, Secretary General of the Regional Cooperation Council

Huge Potential for Collaboration

Bojan Kumer, Slovenian Minister of the Environment, Climate and Energy

Very Clear Tasks

Dubravka Đedović Handanović, Serbian Minister of Mining and Energy

We Can’t Do Without European Support

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