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J. Joksimović: Stronger political steer of accession process by EU member states

March 18 2021 | Belgrade

J. Joksimović: Stronger political steer of accession process by EU member states

The new methodology for EU accession provides for a stronger political steer of the candidate countries’ accession process and should contribute to the dynamism of the process, said Minister of European Integration Jadranka Joksimović, adding that the EU and member states expect all candidates to show greater commitment to the European path and reforms in the rule of law.

Joksimović has said that the Non-paper, which European Commissioner Olivér Várhelyi presented to EU member states ambassadors on Tuesday, has provided clarifications regarding the application of the new methodology, bearing in mind that Serbia’s accession process is “already well-advanced”.

“This is what we have intensively discussed with the EC. Some clarifications were lacking regarding the way in which these new principles will be aligned with our existing negotiating framework, which will not change, and that is excellent, and it is noted in the proposal Commissioner Várhelyi presented to the member states”, stated Joksimović for Tanjug.

She has stressed that the new principles are founded on two key elements, primarily on a stronger political steer of the process both by the EU and the member states, which, according to her, has existed so far but has not been formalised. 

The Minister has said that, under the new methodology, the member states are given stronger political steer and insight into the reform process of candidate countries, particularly in the area of the rule of law and political criteria, which according to Joksimović is not a novelty, but it is reinforced and additionally emphasised.

“It is clear that the EU and member states expect all candidates to demonstrate greater commitment to the European path and commitment to reforms in the area of the rule of law. This is the issue the EU member states themselves face as challenging and that is why, it seems to me, they are strengthening steer in the accession process of candidate countries”, stated Joksimović.

She has also pointed out several important and, so to speak, technical novelties in the procedural sense which, according to her, should contribute to the dynamism of the accession process and which are related to the cluster approach of chapter opening.

“There is nothing technical about it, everything is raised to the political level, and the point is that all 35 chapters have been grouped into six clusters, which we have already known, but it has been important for us to know how we will open them, whether chapter by chapter or a group of chapters so as to open a cluster”, said the Minister.

She thinks that the opening of a group of chapters is the more correct option, as this truly changes something. 

“If, for example, we take cluster 3 on competitiveness and inclusive growth, which contains eight negotiation chapters, of which Serbia has already opened five, the EC and member states will assess the state in that cluster and what should be done in other chapters so that we could simultaneously open all three chapters i.e. the whole cluster”, explained Joksimović.

She has stated that the EU notes that it will not happen if there is no progress in the area of the rule of law, i.e. cluster 1, which among other chapters contains chapters 23 and 24 that are key for political criteria.

“This is not a ground-breaking change, but it does stress that demanding parts of the process will become even more demanding”, noted Joksimović.

She has recalled that Serbia accepted the new methodology at a time when nobody knew how it would look, showing a high level of trust in the EU’s intentions and that it is ready to receive criticism, but that it does not run away from its obligations because it is strategically committed to European integration, not only as the main foreign policy goal, but also the country’s development agenda.

Joksimović has said that the stronger political steer of the accession process will also be achieved through an existing instrument – Intergovernmental Conferences that have so far been held only if a candidate country had chapters ready for opening.

Under the new methodology, the Intergovernmental Conference between all member states and Serbia as a candidate country will be held at the highest ministerial level at least once a year, in the form of a strategic political dialogue.

Joksimović has noted that the Non-paper stresses that the first Intergovernmental Conference with Serbia could be held by the end of the Portuguese presidency, i.e. by the end of June this year.

According to Joksimović, the Intergovernmental Conference would, at the highest political level, put all proposals regarding the new methodology on the table, including discussions about its application and setting plans and strategic priorities for the continuation of the reform process and European path.

“If in the meantime the so-called non-paper on the rule of law, which could be adopted in May, notes certain progress and we make a thorough preparation of assessment in cluster 3 or 4, relating to the Green Agenda, which we are already doing, the EC has then foreseen that one of the clusters could be opened”, says Joksimović.

She has stressed that it is a matter of priority to politically define and agree on the new methodology, and express expectations at the highest level that the topic of enlargement will remain on the agenda this year as well, despite it being still a pandemic year where the focus is on some other topics.

“It is important that we don’t let this topic disappear and that both we and the EU take advantage of this situation and don’t let the accession process slow down, but to raise the political debates between Serbia and EU member state at the strategic level and discuss what we can do faster and better, what their expectations are, what we see as our potential plans for realisation”, emphasised Joksimović.

According to her, it is important to send the message that the previous and this year have shown that Serbia has launched serious reform processes and has proven to be a solidary and resilient society that has never been a burden to the EU.

“On the contrary – we have shown that we can contribute to health safety and demonstrated solidarity with our neighbours in the region and with the EU, and we should use this year to politically define and raise the level of relations at the political level, while reforms await us and we must work on that”, said Joksimović, expressing her belief that the EU member states will adopt the new methodology proposal.

Commenting on the introduction of green digital certificates in the EU as certificates of vaccination, Joksimović has said that the proposal initially only referred to EU member states and that it was logical for it to require only the vaccines approved by the European Medicines Agency, but that, in the meantime, some member states, such as Hungary, Czechia and Slovakia, have begun using vaccines of other producers.

The Minister believes that the EU should find a way to achieve some sort of mutual recognition of certificates, adding that, for now, the member states have some kind of authority to individually give certificates for other vaccines if they wish to.

“This is not exclusively related to Serbia, a large part of the world uses other vaccines as well, not only those approved by the European Medicines Agency, so the EC, in agreement with the WHO, will start finding a way to unify and mutually recognise certificates”, stated Joksimović.

According to her, until this decision is adopted, apart from the certificates, a negative PCR test and a serology antibody test are also valid for travel in the EU.

“We should wait and see what model the EU will use with the member states that use other vaccines, and then with third countries, including Serbia”, said Joksimović.

Source: Tanjug