The EU has to ensure that its enlargement methodology supports reforms and sustains fully-fledged membership as the final goal for accession countries, concluded Foreign Affairs Committee MEPs in their recommendations on the Western Balkans, adopted on Monday.

On 26 March, the European Council decided to open accession negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia. Before that, in February, the Commission proposed a revised methodology that should give renewed impetus to EU enlargement. The summit on Western Balkans is scheduled to take place before the end of the Croatian Presidency in June.

Besides Albania and North Macedonia, Montenegro, and Serbia have already started accession negotiations, while Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo are potential candidates.

More engagement with Western Balkan countries

The decision to open accession talks with Albania and North Macedonia was in the EU’s own political, security and economic interest, say MEPs. They also call on the EU to grant visa liberalisation to Kosovo as soon as possible as well as to closely engage Western Balkan countries’ representatives in joint European initiatives (e.g. sectoral policies and programmes) prior to their accession, including the Conference on the Future of Europe.

Countering corruption and promoting regional cooperation

The EU should ensure that reforms in the Western Balkans focus on state capacity building, implementation of court rulings, judicial reforms and efforts to counter corruption and organised crime, MEPs ask. The EU should increasingly engage in solving outstanding bilateral issues in the region, promoting good neighbourly relations and regional cooperation.

Adequate pre-accession financing, benefiting the citizens of the Western Balkans

MEPs oppose any cuts in pre-accession assistance funding that could slow down EU-related reforms. The EU should prioritise specific projects benefiting the people of the Western Balkans and ensure that pre-accession funding is allocated in a transparent, proportionate and non-discriminatory manner, based on performance indicators measuring the progress of the beneficiary countries in implementing reforms.

“This report is a clear sign of the European Parliament’s support to the aspirations and efforts of Western Balkan countries to become EU members once all criteria are met. It is also a clear sign that we support the continuation of the enlargement process in general, as it has been one of the most successful EU policies. Enlargement policy is also a precondition to promote the EU’s presence and its strategic interest in the Western Balkans, so it should be seen as being in our mutual interests,” said EP rapporteur Tonino Picula (S&D, HR).

The recommendations were adopted with 58 votes for, 7 against and 5 abstentions. They will be submitted to EP Plenary in one of the next sessions.