Tag Archives: Enlargement

EU invests in Western Balkans

Brussels 06.10.2020 Today, the European Commission adopted a comprehensive Economic and Investment Plan for the Western Balkans, which aims to spur the long-term economic recovery of the region, support a green and digital transition, foster regional integration and convergence with the European Union.

“The citizens of the Western Balkans are part of Europe and we have a shared interest in helping these six partners move forward on their EU path. With the Economic and Investment Plan, we are backing our Enlargement Package assessment with action, providing deep and strong support for economic recovery and reform – for a modern, greener and more prosperous Western Balkans delivering better to their citizens on the road to the EU” EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy of the European Commission, Josep Borrell, said.

“Today we are presenting our Economic and Investment plan for the Western Balkans to boost the economic development and recovery of the region. We will mobilise up to €9 billion of funding for investment flagships in the areas of transport, energy, green and digital transition, to create sustainable growth and jobs. The Plan also offers a path for a successful regional economic integration to help accelerate convergence with the EU and close the development gap between our regions, ultimately speeding up the process of EU integration. This plan should help to transform the Western Balkans into one of the most attractive region for investments in the world. Implementation of course will need to go hand in hand with reforms” presenting the new Plan, EU Commissioner for Neighbourhood and Enlargement, Olivér Várhelyi, commented.

The Economic and Investment Plan sets out a substantial investment package mobilising up to €9 billion of funding for the region. It will support sustainable connectivity, human capital, competitiveness and inclusive growth, and the twin green and digital transition.

In parallel to the Economic Investment plan to support the region, the Commission has presented guidelines for implementing the Green Agenda in the Western Balkans, expected to be adopted at the Western Balkans Summit in Sofia in November 2020. It foresees actions around five pillars. These are (i) climate action, including decarbonisation, energy and mobility, (ii) circular economy, addressing in particular waste, recycling, sustainable production and efficient use of resources, (iii), biodiversity, aiming to protect and restore the natural wealth of the region, (iv), fighting air, water and soil pollution and (iv) sustainable food systems and rural areas. Digitalisation will be a key enabler for the above five pillars in line with the concept of the dual green and digital transition.

The Plan identifies ten investment flagships to support major road and railway connections in the region, renewable energy and the transition from coal, renovation of public and private buildings to increase the energy efficiency and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, waste and waste water management infrastructure, as well as the roll out of broadband infrastructure. Other flagships include increased investments in the private sector to boost competitiveness and innovation, in particular of small and medium sized companies and a Youth Guarantee.

In addition to the EU’s significant grant funding to the region, the EU can provide guarantees to help reduce the cost of financing for both public and private investments and to reduce the risk for investors. Support through the new Western Balkans Guarantee facility, under the EU External Action Guarantee and the European Fund for Sustainable Development Plus, is expected to mobilise potentially investments of up to €20 billion in the next decade.

The investment package will be a key driver for facilitating increased public and private investments in the region by European and international financial institutions.

Better connecting the economies of the Western Balkans within the region and with the EU requires a strong commitment from the Western Balkans to implement fundamental reforms, deepen regional economic integration and develop a common regional market on the basis of the EU acquis in order to make the region a more attractive investment area.

The Commission has been supporting the efforts of the Governments of the region to develop a new vision for the creation of a regional economic area expected to be endorsed at the Sofia Summit in November 2020. The EU will strive to bring the region closer to the EU Single market. Good governance is the foundation for sustainable economic growth. Boosting investment and economic growth will therefore only be possible if the Western Balkans firmly commit to and implement fundamental reforms in line with European values.

As reflected in the enhanced enlargement methodology, partners which progress in reform priorities should benefit from increased funding and investments.

Macron agrees to Albania and N.Macedonia accession talks

French President Emmanuel Macron said he would agree North Macedonia and Albania to begin talks on joining the European Union if the bloc’s executive gave them a positive review next month.

Macron’s comments at the Munich Security Conference ended his opposition to the two Balkan countries’ engagement into talks towards EU membership and reassure other European leaders that France still backs expanding the bloc to new members.

“We are waiting for the (European Commission) report in March … depending on that, if the results are positive and confidence is established, then we should be in a position to open the negotiations,” Macron announced the conference.

Macron had refused to approve the start of so-called accession negotiations at a summit in October, saying the process of admitting new members needed to change. One French minister called the accession process an “endless soap opera“.

Concerned by Chinese and Russian influence in the six states that aspire to join the bloc – Serbia, Kosovo, Montenegro, Albania, Bosnia and North Macedonia – Germany and the European Commission said Macron was shortsighted to block them.

The announcement of President Macron provocked a wave of vivid reactions from entire political specturm: from laudit of European Liberals as Guy Verhofstad to condemnation by French Conservatives as Nicolas Bay, who used social media to express his indignation: “NO to MAFIA STATE!”

While #Macron put aside all negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia two months ago, it turns around and is about to lift the opposition of France! NO TO MAFIA STATES and ISLAMISTS STRONGHOLD!” – Member of European Parliament Bay wrote on his Twitter microblog.

Tusks regrets EU refusal of N.Macedonia and Albania accession talks

On October 17 the EU leaders discussed the enlargement. The overwhelming majority wanted to open accession talks with North Macedonia and Albania. However, such a decision requires unanimity, and there was no unanimity yesterday. That is why the EU will revert to this issue before the Zagreb summit in May 2020.

‘Let me be very clear: North Macedonia and Albania are not to blame for this. And the Commission reports are also clear that both these countries did what they were asked to do. And the adoption of the Prespa Agreement was a truly extraordinary achievement. So both countries have the right to start EU negotiations as of today. They are ready. Unfortunately, a few member states are not ready yet. This is why we didn’t manage to reach a positive decision. Personally, I think it was a mistake, but I will not comment on it further” the President of the European Council Donald Tusk said.

‘Today I would like to send a message to our Macedonian and Albanian friends: please do not give up. I fully understand your frustration, because you did your share and we haven’t. The EU is a complex political entity, and it is true that sometimes it takes too long to decide. But I have absolutely no doubt that one day you will become full members of the European Union.”

‘Today leaders also discussed the priorities of the new Commission with President-elect von der Leyen, as well as the future EU budget. It was an important discussion that will continue in the following months. However, without Jean-Claude  (Juncker) and myself around the European Council table, as you know. On this note, I want to thank Jean-Claude, my colleague and friend, for our friendship, for your loyalty and solidarity and for our really great cooperation. And I also want to thank you, the media, for your tough but fair questions, for your patience, for staying up so late with us. And for laughing at some of our jokes. Never funny, frankly speaking…”

Turkey remains candidate country

I will say a word on Turkey… which remains a candidate country, a key partner and a strategically important neighbour for the European Union, also given its proximity to a very volatile Middle East, whose stability is a key priority for both of us. The Turkish government states its commitment to European Union accession but we see the country continues to move further away from the European Union” EU top diplomat Federica Mogherini said, addressing Brussels press corps.

“We believe it would be beneficial for all and in particular for the Turkish citizens if this trend is reversed urgently, which we will obviously always welcome.”

“We also emphasize the importance of good neighbourly relations and avoiding tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean, and you have seen my recent statements in particular on this issue.”

 

 

 

MEPs concerned with Ukrainian zoo cruelty

The January hearing of the Intergroup on the Welfare and the Conservation of Animals in Strasbourg chaired by Anja Hazekamp (NL, GUE/NGL)  opened the floor with the discussion of the devastating situation of lions, and bears in Porkovsk private zoo of Igor Padalko (Ukraine, Donetsk region).

The issue of Porkovsk zoo came to attention of the MEPs due to a Petition launched by Ukrainian animal welfare activists, who said they are not heard by their own government in Kiev, asking the European Parliament to take action to save animals from an ongoing horrendous abuse in Padalko private zoo. In a few days the Petition gathered 25 thousand signatures, and continues to circulate. The activists requested to freeze the EU micro-financial aid to Ukrainian government until the European values are respected, namely the Article 13 of Lisbon Treaty, stating that animal welfare is “European value“, and animals are “sentient beings.”

It has been years that Ukrainian activists have been struggling for liberation from a horrendous abuse of six lions, 11 bears and around 100 of other animals in Pokrovsk zoo , suffering in tiny filthy self-made cages, unable even to stretch their paws, stamping in their own feces, not removed for weeks.

MEPs present at the hearing were appalled by the cruelty to the wild animals, but also concerned by the inaction of the Ukrainian Ministry of Ecology, and the other relevant instances, who did not assume their responsibility.

padalko lion abuse

They also reminded that Stefan Eck, the vice-president of the group, has already called (5.12.2018) President Poroshenko to act in line with the European norms and save Padalko animals from abuse. So far the call remained unanswered, and Ukrainian activists informed about death of the second exhausted lion frozen alive in his urine in his cage (- 11C°). Soon after his death the corpse vanished.

Concluding the discussion the MEP sent a a letter from Intergroup to the  Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn, seeking his support, and reminding that the EU and Ukraine regularly reaffirm their strong partnership based on their association agreement and pledge to strengthen the political association and economic integration of Ukraine with the EU. As part of Ukraine’s ambitious reform agenda which is financially supported by the EU, “it would be desirable that also the respect of animal welfare concerns would be taken into account“.

The Intergroup has also written a letter to the Ukranian Minister for Ecology Ostap Semerak, asking him to take an immediate action to rescue and re-home the animals of Padalko zoo:  “…We call on you as the Ukrainian Minister of Ecology and Natural Resources to intervene as a matter of urgency in order to rescue and re-home the animals from this zoo. Be assured that any action you will take in this regard can be supported by NGOs who can offer help for re-homing the animals”.

The local animal welfare activists claim Igor Padalko kept animals in the abominable conditions for years with a purpose to collect money all over Ukraine via social networks: for “food for lions“, and for “cages construction“. Nobody saw any improvements for animals, however the Padalkos acquired for their son a comfortable apartment in Kiev.

The other lucrative activity was in receiving bus excursions of schoolchildren from the region, supposedly to learn about wild nature. Many teachers complained that children were crying, while looking at suffering on animals jammed in small filthy cages.

Although cruel and abusive towards animals, who had bruises and broken jaws from beatings with rods, unable even to stand up from hunger and exhaustion,  Padalko has been continuously accumulating social capital in local community – offering Ukrainian military from the front line the beautiful beach on river-side, and tea-houses for recreation on his 25-hectare territory; organising from time to time free dinners for elderly locals; and even adopting children. The remarkable social skills helped to establish connections, and even patronage, making all the attempts of the animal rights groups to liberate the lions and bears from the torture conditions ineffective.

Reportedly the adopted children were taken away from Padalko, presumably after numerous complains about his cruelty, the question remains, how such a character received the orphans in first place. Lately Padalko threatened to shoot activists, if they dare to enter the zoo. Local police asked to avoid any contacts with him, but also refused any complains of animal abuse. In spite of numerous frauds, and abuses, thanks to his connections Padalko stays “untouchable“.

Animal rights groups presume that Padalko counts on sympathy of the governor of the Donetsk region Oleksander Kuz, who send his employers to Kiev to hash up the scandal, and demand subsidies for the zoo renovation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dutch Parliament blocks Albania EU accession talks

The Netherlands is blocking the opening of negotiations with Albania on joining the European Union. A majority of the House of Representatives gave a clear opinion to the upcoming meeting of European foreign ministers in Brussels on June, 25.

The decision did not come as a surprise, because Dutch lawmakers have already expressed serious concerns with organised crime and corruption in Balkan country.

“We have serious concerns about the fight against corruption and organized crime,” said Dutch minister of Foreign Affairs Stef Blok. “More progress needs to be made on these points first.” However Blok does not close the door for Albania to join the EU in the future.

The parliamentary factions of VVD, CDA, CU, PVV, SP and 50Plus are “forbidding” the government to agree on negotiations with Albania on accession, The Telegraaf newspaper reports.

Three of the four government parties, including liberal-conservative VVD, the party of Prime Minister Mark Rutte, as well three opposition parties, have indicated that the progress of the Albanian government has not been sufficient to discuss the opening of negotiations. Subsequently Rutte has no mandate to accept the talks opening during upcoming European Council the end of this month, as it was previously planned by the EU officials.

The situation with Northern Macedonia (Severna Makedonia) is complex due to the name change, but there is no similar block imposed to restrict Rutte movements.

However there is a word in Brussels, that contrary to the EU officials plans, Austrian government will block the accession talks with N.Macedonia.

Albania occupies 91 place among 180 countries in corruption index of Transparency International.

 

 

 

MEPs stand for Schengen enlargement

The enlargement of the Schengen area to Bulgaria and Romania is in focus of the Bulgarian presidency of the EU, and the Members of the European Parliament (MEPs).

Despite Bulgaria and Romania fulfilling the necessary criteria and repeated calls from the MEPs to let them join, the Schengen area has not been expanded to these two countries yet as EU national governments have to unanimously agree to allow new states to enter the border-free zone.

The process regarding Croatia’s entry is ongoing, while Cyprus has a temporary derogation from joining the Schengen area.

“We pushed you. You did your homework but the problem is the unanimity in the Council” –  Portuguese MEP Carlos Coelho said. Romanian S&D MEP Emilian Pavel said: “Prolonging this situation, this uncertainty, brings a negative image of the EU, people see that we are treated as second class citizens.”

“The Commission has repeatedly said that both Romania and Bulgaria have fulfilled all technical criteria but because some countries object, we are not members. It is sad that we allow politics to stand in the way of rules” – Bulgarian EPP member Emil Radev added.

Fellow Bulgarian Asim Ademov, also a member of the EPP group, regrets “a lack of solidarity” and “double standards”.

Portuguese EPP member Carlos Coelho wrote Parliament’s report on the revision of the Schengen Information System. However there is also an ongoing debate on corruption and organised crime in both countries, casting the shadow of doubt on the possibility to join Schengen without delivering convincing evidence of the defeat of the organised crime.

Fajon: Western Balkans are Europe

Tanja FAJON MEP,  the vice-chair of Socialists and Democrats group of the European Parliament, reflects upon future of Western Balkans and the EU new strategy towards the region, pointing out the necessity to keep a right balance between enhancing reform without losing a perspective of membership in view or compromising criteria. A credible enlargement perspective for Western Balkans is a fair offer to countries to join European family they belong to, FAJON insists, underlining a positive example of her own country, joining the EU, Slovenia:

Enlargement towards Western Balkans on EU cards

The Commission adopted today a strategy for  ‘A credible enlargement perspective for and enhanced EU enlargement with the Western Balkans”, as President Jean-Claude Juncker announced in his  2017 State of the Union address confirming the European future of the region as a geostrategic investment in a stable, strong and united Europe based on common values.

The Strategy spells out the priorities and areas of joint reinforced cooperation, addressing the specific challenges the Western Balkans face, in particular the need for fundamental reforms and good neighbourly relations. A credible enlargement process requires sustained efforts and irreversible reforms. Progress along the European path is an objective and  merit-based process which depends on the concrete results achieved by each individual country.

Today, the European Commission announced  six flagship initiatives – specific actions that the EU will take over the next years to support the transformation efforts of the Western Balkans in areas of mutual interest. These range from initiatives to strengthen the rule of law, reinforced cooperation on security and migration, expanding the EU Energy Union to the Western Balkans or lowering roaming charges and rolling out broadband in the region. The Strategy also underlines the need for the EU to be prepared to welcome new members once they have met the criteria.

Investing in the stability and prosperity of the Western Balkans means investing in the security and future of our Union” – President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker stated. “Although there will be no further enlargements under this mandate, today the European Commission is charting the European path ahead for the Western Balkans.With strong political will, real and sustained reforms, and definitive solutions to disputes with neighbours, the Western Balkans can move forward on their respective European paths. Whether this is achieved will depend on their objective merits. The European Commission will be rigorous but it will also be fair. I will travel to each of the countries of the Western Balkans at the end of this month with a clear message: keep reforming and we will keep supporting your European future.

Turkey to reconsider joining EU

President Tayyip Erdogan told he will reconsider the position on joining the European Union if Turkey was kept waiting much longer and if the current attitude, described by him as a ‘hostile mentality’ of some member states persists.

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) , a leading human rights body, to put Turkey on a watch list was “entirely political” and Ankara did not recognize the move, Erdigan said.

Erdogan also indicated he is ready to take the question of EU accession to a referendum, because Turkey could not wait ‘indefinitely’ after 54 years at the door.

 “In Europe, things have become very serious in terms of the extent of Islamophobia. The EU is closing its doors on Turkey and Turkey is not closing its doors on anybody,” Erdogan said in an interview at the presidential palace in Ankara.
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