Today, before the Zagreb Summit of the European Union and the Western Balkans countries, the Socialists and Democrats (S&D) in the European Parliament in cooperation with the Party of European Socialists (PES) held a joint summit with representatives of sister parties from the Western Balkans.
Croatian MEP Tonino Picula, in charge of the concluding remarks of the meeting, pointed out that the EU is in a crisis today, which is only partly a consequence of the pandemic. "The European Union must be able to prove to its citizens that it is able to solve the great problems of our countries and the continent in the 21st century in the way it did in the second half of the 20th century. As socialists and democrats, we have always considered enlargement to be a fundamental political process and a common interest of the Union and the candidates", Picula said. He argued that enlargement allows the European Union to promote and insist on reforms important to candidate countries. "This is not about a zero-sum game, but mutual benefits. By helping to build and promote social and economic cohesion even before full membership, the Union is also sending a message to its own citizens that there will be no migratory pressures nor social dumping. It enables the Union to take the lead in the region, and helps prevent and better manage crises and conflicts. Enlargement strengthens credibility and sends a message about the future of the Union itself. The history of the EU is a history of enlargement, and itself a testament to the success of that policy", he said.
Picula serves as Rapporteur for the Western Balkans and Montenegro, as well as S&D's foreign policy coordinator in the EP's Foreign Affairs Committee (AFET).
The meeting was opened with introductory speeches of European Parliament President David Sassoli and the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell. The day before, they also adopted a declaration welcoming the Summit, as well as financial packages and EU measures to help countries in the region fight the COVID-19 pandemic. Among the conclusions of the previously adopted Declaration on Enlargement in the Western Balkans, the Socialists and Democrats emphasize that the accession of each new member will happen only if all the criteria from the negotiation process are met, without concessions. They insist on the principle that each candidate is judged according to her own merits and clear, previously established criteria.
The EU must provide the countries of the Western Balkans with a clear and stable framework for accession, as well as support during the process, which ensures clarity, predictability, credibility and coherence, as well as keeping the promises made. S&D believes that one of the key aspects of the enlargement process should be a gradual approach to EU policies and instruments. Due to the environmental challenges facing the countries of the Western Balkans, as well as their geographical location and membership prospects, these countries should be included in the transformation processes of the European Green Plan. Of particular importance for S&D is the social dimension of candidates' reform. By promoting growth and the European social acquis in the candidate countries, it is necessary to create the conditions for better jobs, equal treatment and the well-being of families and individuals. It is necessary to reduce social tensions, build opportunities for young people, reduce brain drain and combat unfair competition.
It is extremely important to promote cohesion and equal treatment of workers, as well as respect for labor and social rights, as this is the best way to fight poverty.
The meeting was hosted by the head of the S&D Iratxe group García Pérez and the president of the PES Sergej Stanišev, as well as heads of the EP delegations for Serbia Tanja Fajon, Andreas Schieder in Northern Macedonia and Isabel Santos for Albania. Other attendees included Albanian Prime Minister and President of the Albanian Socialist Party Edi Rama, Montenegrin President Milo Djukanović, former Prime Minister and President of the Social Democratic Union of Northern Macedonia Zoran Zaev, Kosovo Prime Minister Aldin Kurti, President of the Montenegrin Social Democratic Party Draginja Vuksanović, SDP BiH President Nermin Nikšić, Dragan Đilas president of the Freedom and Justice Parties of Serbia, former Greek Prime Minister and Syriza President Alexis Tsipras, PASOK President Fofi Gennimata and Croatian SDP President Davor Bernardić.