At their December plenary session CoR members adopted recommendations for the EU's enlargement policy, with an opinion drawn up by PES member Franco Iacop from the Regional Council of Friuli-Venezia Giulia (Italy). The opinion assesses from a local and regional perspective the recent progress of the candidate countries (Albania, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, and Turkey) and potential candidate countries (Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Kosovo) towards accession to the European Union.
"Future EU membership is a tangible reality for the western Balkans, but it needs political commitment from all levels of government", stressed Iacop. "In many places in our partner countries air pollution is killing people; waste management is a priority problem for almost all cities, while tourism is a major source of economic hope for many regions. These are examples of issues that affect people's daily life and in which local and regional authorities have a critical role to play. Experience shows that citizens will judge the usefulness of joining the EU by progress in such areas, so it makes practical and political sense for the EU to start working closely with local and regional politicians well before their countries join the EU."
Iacop stresses that "the enlargement process must continue to be an EU priority and the rule of law, justice, fundamental rights, and respect for and protection of minorities must remain at the core of the process". Key points include:
- welcoming the European Commission's proposal to open accession negotiations with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) and Albania in June 2019;
- calling for the countries of the region and their populations to reject any form of nationalism and inward-looking identity politics and support the European ideal with renewed determination;
- emphasising the importance of the partnership with Turkey, noting that in recent years the process of approximation to the EU has lost headway and serious reverses have occurred concerning respect for the rule of law and fundamental rights and freedoms; and considering that it is now up to Turkey to assess whether and how it intends to continue on the course begun in 1987 with its request for accession;
- stressing the need to launch tangible initiatives to foster a bottom-up approach which focuses on the benefits of the enlargement process for citizens' daily lives and improves their standards of living.
CoR members and their partners in the western Balkans already discussed the European Commission's enlargement reports with Johannes Hahn, the European Commissioner for European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations, at the CoR's Enlargement Day in May. Since then, CoR members have met counterparts in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro, Albania, Serbia, and this week in Turkey, as part of their work programmes.