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INTERVIEW / Viola von Cramon:

INTERVIEW / Viola von Cramon: "We need a new enlargement strategy, with reversibility and benefits for candidates"

The Green/Ale MEP, member of the Committee on Foreign Affairs (Afet), underlines the key-points of the European Parliament's recommendation and warns that "we have to be credible and deliver in the Western Balkans, as otherwise our promise in the East will not be taken seriously"

Brussels – A new Eu enlargement strategy to overcome the stalemates and protracted delays shown by the ongoing process in the Western Balkans. In an interview with EunewsViola von Cramon Taubadel, MEP of the Green/Ale Mep and member of the Foreign Affairs Committee (Afet), explains how the Eu institutions need a change of direction, also considering the new candidates in Eastern Europe and the risks of destabilization in countries left outside the European Union.

In MEP Viola von Cramon’s point of view, the starting point should be the recommendation on the new enlargement strategy, approved in the Afet Committee and now awaiting the final Parliament’s vote in plenary session [update of November 23: the recommendation has been adopted by the plenary session of the European Parliament]. This could be a base to strengthen the trust of the candidate partners, with an eye to the EU-Western Balkans Summit scheduled in Tirana on December 6.

What is the cornerstone of the recommendation concerning the new EU Enlargement Strategy?

Viola von Cramon: “There are two important elements. One of the key developments brought by the revamping of enlargement methodology in 2020 was reversibility. I therefore think that the message that some countries backslide in certain areas is an important message only if there are consequences for that – no progress in EU accession talks, no funds, etc. Therefore, we want to make conditionality meaningful – linked to the rule of law, democracy and Common Foreign and Security Policy alignment.

The second element is the fact that enlargement gained new impetus with the war in Ukraine. It is again the talk of the town and pushes us to rethink and reengage with new approaches, how to accommodate the candidates from Eastern Partnership with the ones from the Western Balkans. The Strategy aims to clarify that irrespective of the newcomers, we have to be credible and deliver in the Western Balkans as otherwise our promise in the East will not be taken seriously”.

What was the main objectives of your amendments to improve the new Strategy?

Viola von Cramon: “My main objective was to twofold – to reinforce the conditionality and to front-load the benefits for those in the process. As regards the collaboration in Afet, I believe that there is a huge majority of MEPs across political groups who are in favor of the enlargement as such. Of course, there are always some differences, but the overall objective was clear to all big groups”.

Viola von CramonHow do you think the Western Balkans’ partners will benefit from the new Strategy, once adopted?

Viola von Cramon: “I am afraid that this does not become yet another paper done in Brussels. The idea is to engage truly with the Western Balkans partners and to award the ones who genuinely work on bringing their countries and societies closer to the Union. In that sense, the paper reinforces the idea of accelerated integration – phasing in in the sectoral policies once the countries met the criteria.

A special emphasis is put on the role of civil society, in many aspects a crucial stakeholder across the region. Once you have the captured state or a government, you naturally turn to the civil society organizations as someone who provides you with credible assessment and perspective”.

The Enlargement Package 2022 recommends the Council to grant Bosnia and Herzegovina the candidate status, even if the countries does not seem to have made major improvements on the 14 priorities. Is this reasonable?

Viola von Cramon: “The Greens have organized a delegation to Bosnia and Herzegovina before the elections and we clearly said – couple of crucial conditions need to be met in order to get the candidate status. We understood the sense of geopolitical urgency, as well as injustice that might have been felt in Bosnia due to Ukraine’s candidate status. People were asking us – should we start the war again to get it? And we understood very well that message.

However, the unconditional granting would only go in hand of rooted nationalistic political options such as Sda, Snsd and Hdz BiH, so we also want to communicate it clearly – this is a reward to the citizens, not to the corrupted elites, and that must be clear”.

Meanwhile, Serbia keeps raising concerns for the non-alignment with the EU’s Foreign and Security Policy, in particular on the sanctions against Russia.

Viola von Cramon: “The signals are indeed worrying. For the very first time, even though it could have been done in previous years as well in the rule of law area, we have backsliding. Serbia has only 45 per cent of alignment with EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy, a decline of 20 per cent compared to the last report. The trend is clear and the situation is untenable. We have sent the clear message to President Aleksandar Vučić – either you are with us when we need the European unity, or you are against.

The Serbian balancing act is unacceptable and the consequences may be effective stopping of Serbia’s accession talks. We do want to see Serbia in the Ee, but for that to happen Serbia needs to do a U-turn in its foreign policy and clearly demonstrate the solidarity with Ukraine”.

What do you think about the French-German proposal on the Pristina-Belgrade dialogue?

Viola von Cramon: “I cannot comment on the content or on the existence of the proposal, but I do find this as a welcomed and timely initiative. The key European capitals are involved and we do need to see the political steering of the Serbia-Kosovo dialogue in order to move things forward.

This is a unique window of opportunity as we have full trans-Atlantic unity on this issue and no elections in the upcoming period, so I strongly encourage both sides to use it and the mediation of Eu Special representative Miroslav Lajčák to come to a sustainable, comprehensive agreement. Without it, neither of the two will be able to join the EU”.