CoR members gathering at their plenary session today held a debate with Johannes Hahn, the European Commissioner for European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations, on recent progress of Western Balkans countries towards EU membership.
In his intervention, the Commissioner stressed the important role of cities and regions in the European enlargement process: "Local and regional authorities are an anchor of stability, promoting social and economic cooperation and facilitating cross-border dialogue. As the Balkan region still remains fragile, their role is even more crucial in providing guidance to these countries on their path", he emphasised.
Speaking on behalf of the PES Group in the CoR, Peter Bossman, Mayor of Piran (PES/Slovenia), stressed that in order to make enlargement a success, "we need to work on the direct benefits for all citizens: guarantee their fundamental rights and give them the opportunity to live in peace with their neighbours."
The PES Group coordinator of the Commission for Citizenship, Governance, Institutional & External Affairs (CIVEX) warmly welcomed the six flagship initiatives set out in the European Commission's recent Communication on "A credible enlargement perspective for and enhanced EU engagement with the Western Balkans", including strengthening the rule of law, supporting reconciliation and good neighbourly relations, reinforcing the engagement on security and migration, enhancing support for socio-economic development, increasing transport and energy connectivity and promoting a digital agenda. "I am convinced that only by joining efforts at all government levels can we succeed in bringing forward the process", he concluded.
Following the debate, the CoR adopted an opinion entitled "Enlargement: Inclusion of Western Balkans Local and Regional Authorities in the EU's Macro-regional, Cross-border and other Transnational Cooperation Initiatives" to which the PES Group has actively contributed with a number of amendments.