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Procedure : 2011/2886(RSP)
Document stages in plenary
Document selected : B7-0188/2012

Texts tabled :

B7-0188/2012

Debates :

PV 28/03/2012 - 16
CRE 28/03/2012 - 16

Votes :

PV 29/03/2012 - 9.11
CRE 29/03/2012 - 9.11
Explanations of votes
Explanations of votes
Explanations of votes
Explanations of votes
Explanations of votes

Texts adopted :

P7_TA(2012)0114

Debates
Wednesday, 28 March 2012 - Brussels OJ edition

16. Enlargement report for Serbia (debate)
Video of the speeches
PV
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  President. – The next item is the Council and Commission statements on the enlargement report for Serbia.

 
  
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  Nicolai Wammen, President-in-Office of the Council. Mr President, on behalf of the Danish Presidency of the Council it is a great pleasure to address this Parliament once again, this time to review the integration progress of Serbia. First of all, let me restate that the Presidency very much appreciates Parliament’s active engagement with the EU enlargement process. Your active and constructive contribution to the general debate on enlargement and to Serbia’s integration process in particular is a precious political asset to us. I would also like to take this opportunity to thank rapporteur Kacin for his work.

I would like to underline that the EU approach is rigorous but fair, delivering on its commitments against clear requirements. This was the case with Croatia when we successfully concluded accession negotiations, and this was the case with Serbia when the European Council decided to grant candidate status to the country.

These achievements show that the political drive behind the EU enlargement process policy continues to promote positive change and sustainable reforms. This process has over many years been a decisive positive factor for peace, security and prosperity throughout Europe. On behalf of the Danish Presidency and the Member States, I would like to welcome the work of this Parliament, and in particular Mr Jelko Kacin’s continuous commitment and positive contribution to the endeavour of advancing the enlargement policy of the European Union. The significance of Parliament’s work in particular to maintain the support of EU citizens for further enlargement must be underlined. I can assure you that we will pay particular attention to the views of the European Parliament in this regard.

The European Council granted Serbia candidate country status on 1 March this year. I visited Belgrade as part of this process, both before and immediately after the decision was taken, and I can say that it was met with great appreciation by the President and the people of Serbia. We welcome the fact that Serbia and Kosovo reached agreement on regional cooperation and the implementation of the integrated management for crossing points, the IBM. We are aware that there are temporary difficulties in implementing the Regional Cooperation Agreement, and we are working to restore the situation and bring all parties back together.

What is of the utmost importance for Serbia now is to continue its good work on the EU reform agenda and to continue to actively implement the agreements reached within the framework of the EU-facilitated Belgrade-Priština dialogue. Maintaining good relations with all its neighbours will bring stability to Serbia and to the whole region. This remains a very important part of the integration process of Serbia.

It is clear from the opinion of the European Commission of October 2011 that Serbia has progressed towards fulfilling the Copenhagen criteria and the conditions of the Stabilisation and Association Process, and important steps have been taken towards establishing a functioning market economy and achieving macro-economic stability. However, as is reflected in your resolution, Serbia needs to make further efforts to maintain the necessary degree of compliance with the membership criteria, with particular attention to the rule of law.

Let me end by recalling that regional cooperation and good neighbourhood relations are key to progress in the Western Balkans region. We therefore encourage Belgrade to continue its active engagement in regional cooperation, and from the Presidency’s point of view we are also looking forward to close cooperation with Parliament and the Commission, and with Commissioner Füle, in this regard.

 
  
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  Štefan Füle, Member of the Commission. − Mr President, it is a great pleasure and honour for me to participate in today’s debate on the European integration process of Serbia, not least because Serbia was granted candidate status by the European Council at the beginning of the month.

I am most grateful to the rapporteur, Mr Jelko Kacin, for having outlined comprehensively and accurately the many achievements, as well as the challenges, lying ahead of Serbia. That Serbia was granted candidate status is due firstly to the determination and vision of the Serbian leadership; secondly, to the priority given by all Serbian state institutions to the EU reform agenda; and thirdly, to their increasing efficiency in adopting and implementing key reforms, notably under the political criteria.

At the pinnacle of these achievements were the significant and consistent efforts of President Tadić to deliver on cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and to foster a new spirit of cooperation and reconciliation in the region, including by effectively engaging in the Belgrade/Priština dialogue.

We have now arrived at a major turning point in our relations with Serbia. Along with the forthcoming entry into force of the Stabilisation and Association Agreement, these relations have been brought to a much higher level. I am confident that this will generate a new impetus for reforms and a new wind of change within all Serbian institutions. Ultimately, this gives a far better prospect to Serbian citizens who are eager to live in a country where democracy and the rule of law prevail while its economy recovers and develops in the best possible environment.

2011 was an important year for Serbia, a year of demanding challenges. 2012 will be equally paramount, as Serbia is eager to open accession negotiations. Qualifying for that major step will be the first task of the incoming government after the elections on 6 May.

There is serious work ahead for Serbia if the Commission is to recommend opening accession negotiations in its next progress report. Firstly, Serbia is expected to deliver on the key priority: making further progress towards a visible and sustainable improvement in its relations with Kosovo. This means in particular that Serbia needs to implement – and stick to the letter and spirit of – all agreements reached to date in the dialogue with Priština. Secondly, we will need to see the momentum of reforms continuing in order to confirm that Serbia sufficiently fulfils the political criteria.

We are determined to continue our engagement with Serbia. As long as the objective and criteria are clearly defined, I have strong faith in Serbia’s capacity to mobilise itself and achieve the necessary additional progress to move towards accession negotiations. This will allow the negotiation process to push reforms and tackle even the most difficult challenges which lie ahead.

I am convinced that, with our joint support, Serbia will continue to embrace its European future. This will give a positive message to the whole region in order to consolidate peace and foster economic prosperity in the Western Balkans.

Thank you very much for your attention.

 
  
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  Jelko Kacin, on behalf of the ALDE Group. (SL) Mr President, today we are debating Serbia’s progress in the negotiations for accession to the European Union for the first time since it was granted candidate status.

This is a major breakthrough for Serbia and the entire region. For Serbian citizens, the prospect of EU membership has finally become tangible. I must stress that it is important to maintain this positive momentum.

I hope that the electoral campaign for parliamentary elections in Serbia will not affect the dialogue with Priština and implementation of agreements reached.

Implementation of the Agreement on joint border control is very important. I welcome the Serbian authorities’ commitment to ensure freedom of movement on the Serbian side of the border.

I welcome even more the cooperation of the Serbian leadership with Eulex and KFOR and the more than obvious progress following the incidents in the north of Kosovo in recent years.

I believe that Serbia is prepared for accession negotiations. It has a European Integration Office and the most competent administration in the region. If, after the elections, the new government shows commitment to the implementation of reforms and regional cooperation, we will need to start negotiations as soon as possible.

At the same time, Serbian authorities should step up the fight against systemic corruption. The interests of political parties and private interests are still intertwined and it appears that Serbia has yet to make a start on these issues.

Reforms of the justice system should remove doubts about any political pressures on the courts and prosecution authorities.

I would like to mention how much Verica Barać, former head of the Serbian Council for the Fight against Corruption, did for Serbia. Sadly, Ms Barać died nine days ago.

I wish Serbian leaders could show as much will and energy in combating corruption and promoting the rule of law as Verica Barać did, a woman who stood alone in this fight on too many occasions.

Nonetheless, she has shown that independent institutions in Serbia are able to do their job effectively and professionally. In the fight against corruption, the political will of the relevant executive power is very important.

The resolution on Serbia’s progress, on which we will be voting tomorrow, provides a message of encouragement and constructive criticism.

I firmly believe that, once the negotiations start, Serbia will make faster progress. However, it is for the leadership in Belgrade to put its money where its mouth is.

 
  
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  György Schöpflin, on behalf of the PPE Group. Mr President, my congratulations to Mr Kacin. This is a thorough and cogent report. Cooperation has been very good.

Serbia has been granted candidate status, and at the same time – this is important – elections are to be held in early May. So this report can serve as a guide for the next Serbian Government in its stance towards Europe. A great deal has been done to make Serbian accession feasible, and the country should receive due credit for all these efforts. However, as the report makes clear, this does not mean that all is done and dusted: far from it. There are many areas where the Serbian system of government – and, for that matter, governance – demand a major overhaul before they meet the EU criteria.

One of these areas is very serious. This is where legal provision is used, indeed abused, to eliminate competition and to stultify the market in favour of insiders. It is all the worse that this practice is undertaken in the name of the fight against organised crime.

Then there is Kosovo. All candidate countries have to come to terms with their neighbours, whatever the antecedents. This means that Serbia has to confront Kosovo’s independence and abandon illusions that somehow, one day, Kosovo will again be a part of the Serbian State. It will not, however hard that may be to accept.

Thirdly, while Serbia has taken a number of steps in the direction of providing equal status for its non-Serbian minorities, its citizenship concept is not yet sufficiently inclusive to provide full rights to some non-Serbian groups, notably the Romanian speakers of the Timok Valley and the Bulgarian minority. The model – the good model developed in Vojvodina – of all minority councils should be extended to the rest of the country. The next government will have plenty on its plate.

 
  
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  Maria Eleni Koppa, on behalf of the S&D Group.(EL) Mr President, on behalf of the Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament, I too should like to congratulate the rapporteur, Mr Kacin, on his report and to express my satisfaction that Serbia has been granted the status of candidate country.

There are two main reasons for that: firstly, because it serves as acknowledgment of the efforts made by this country towards European integration and, secondly because, in the present economic crisis and general struggle towards enlargement, this step provides practical proof that the policy of enlargement is alive and well and that the European Union intends to honour its commitment to integrate all the countries in the Western Balkans.

I congratulate the Serbian people and the Serbian leadership on the important steps made and would encourage them to continue their efforts to modernise their society and administration and to come to terms with and assimilate its past mistakes. We believe that President Tadic deserves particular congratulations for his political action, for the reconciliations in the area of the Former Yugoslavia and his firm commitment to bring Serbia into Europe. This contribution was recognised yesterday when Serbia was awarded the Council of Europe North-South Prize. The recognition conferred on him is an honour for the entire country.

The agreements achieved within the framework of the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina give cause to hope that the situation will be smoothed over for the benefit of all the inhabitants of the area. The application of the agreements and continuing dialogue are crucial. Everyone involved, especially the European Union, has a responsibility to contribute to its successful continuation. A peaceful solution to differences and reconciliation between nations are principles based on the European approach. Anyone wanting to join the European Union must bear that in mind.

 
  
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  Franziska Katharina Brantner, on behalf of the Verts/ALE Group. – (DE) Mr President, I would also like to start by expressing my thanks to the rapporteur. He has produced a very good draft and together we have turned it into an excellent report. I would like to thank him for his cooperation. The report is good because it is balanced. It recognises the progress that Serbia has made in recent months and years, but is not afraid to raise controversial issues wherever this is necessary. The many important advances made have already been mentioned, including cooperation with the UN tribunal, reforms relating to the rule of law and the economy, and, with some hesitation, readiness to compromise in the case of Kosovo.

However, Kosovo is one key area where the debit side heavily outweighs the credit side. The most recent agreements on integrated border management are an important step forward and they have smoothed the path towards candidate status. However, what has been agreed must be put into practice. Belgrade has not yet signed the agreement on border management, despite the fact that political approval was given a month ago. We in the European Parliament must send a clear signal to Belgrade. Agreements that have been concluded must be complied with and implemented, regardless of whether or not an election campaign is underway. This is what Serbia will be judged on.

The situation will soon become more concrete when the question of starting accession negotiations is raised. I hope that this will happen as soon as possible. However, the requirement for this is that the criteria specified by the European Commission are met and this applies, most importantly, to relations with Kosovo.

Serbia is faced with other challenges, in particular with regard to combating corruption, protecting the rights of minorities and judicial reform. Ms Cornelissen will have more to say about this later. Clearly it is in the hands of the Serbians to speed up the process of moving closer to Europe. We will take a critical look at the problems, but we will always be fair, because our joint objective is to ensure that Serbia becomes a member of the European family.

 
  
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  Mirosław Piotrowski, on behalf of the ECR Group. (PL) Mr President, the European Union, ignoring the serious financial crisis that is consuming it, is continuing the enlargement process. It is directing its attention particularly on the Balkans.

During the March part-session in Strasbourg, we heard opposing views about Macedonia, and today the Committee on Foreign Affairs has submitted to Parliament a motion for a resolution on the European integration process of Serbia. We read in the report that this country has made clear progress in the areas of democratic and legislative reform. It is difficult to agree fully with some of the clauses in the resolution since, on the one hand, as for example in paragraph 30, the Serbian authorities are generally criticised for a ‘lack of political will demonstrated during the course of the preparations for the Pride Parade scheduled for 2 October 2011’, and then, on the other hand, in this same paragraph, there is uncalled for interference in freedom of speech, denying the right of Orthodox clergy, among others, to express opinions in line with their convictions.

While of course condemning any extremist attitudes in that country, we must remember that the issue of tolerance that is raised in this report should also apply to the Christians who have been criticised, and Parliament’s overly importunate statements could upset the entire integration process.

 
  
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  Miloslav Ransdorf, on behalf of the GUE/NGL Group. - (CS) Mr President, I would like to say that the idea that stability is indivisible constitutes one of the values of the European Union, and by helping Serbia become integrated into the family of European nations, we will actually be assisting European stability. I would also like to say that Serbia is the central economy of the Balkans, and the integration of Serbia will stabilise the Balkans as a region.

Thirdly, I would like to stress that we will be helping to defuse chauvinism through the integration of the Balkans and the stabilisation of Serbia as the central country of the region. Chauvinism is the enemy of European integration and the enemy of stability.

With regard to what Professor Schöpflin said, I would like to say openly here that Vojvodina, for example, which he mentioned here as a cautionary example, is actually an example of tolerance, as it is home to many ethnic communities, and even the small Czech or Slovak community enjoys the benefit of its own schools and its own media access. It is therefore not true that there would be discrimination in Vojvodina.

Serbia has recently begun a courageous fight against organised crime, as well as a very ambitious reform of the judiciary. It has, in a short space of time, removed 1 600 judges who had links to organised crime. In my opinion, we should support this effort.

 
  
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  Cristian Dan Preda (PPE).(RO) Mr President, I wish to begin by emphasising that I have always supported Serbia’s accession. I strongly believe that the whole EU accession process is to the advantage of the citizens of this country, who are ultimately the main beneficiaries of the political and economic reforms required for compliance with the Copenhagen criteria.

However, accession means full observance of these criteria, including the essential criterion regarding the protection of persons belonging to minorities. In this respect, I want to draw particular attention to the situation of ethnic Romanians living in north-eastern Serbia, which, unfortunately, has not improved at all. Issues such as access to education, religious services and mass-media in Romanian language or use of Romanian language in local government are still problematic, while intimidating actions against ethnic Romanians living in Timoc Valley carry on as well.

These matters are not new and have been raised repeatedly, but, despite guarantees offered by Serbian authorities, including during debates in our Parliament, the implementation of European standards with regard to the protection of national minorities is still poor. Moreover, despite commitments made by Serbia before the European Council meeting in March, when the Joint Commission Protocol on National Minorities was signed with Romania, there are indications that the implementation of these rules is not a priority for Serbia. Therefore, I want to welcome the European Commission’s decision to monitor the implementation of legislation on minorities in Serbia. I hope this will finally lead to real changes in the situation of the Romanian minority, which will only accelerate Serbia’s European course.

 
  
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  Libor Rouček (S&D). - (CS) Mr President, enlargement policy has been one of the most successful EU policies of recent years. Enlargement policy has secured peace, stability, cooperation and prosperity in the countries of Central and Eastern Europe. I believe it is our common aim to bring this successful idea to completion in the Western Balkans. Croatia has successfully completed the negotiation process, and, provided all goes well, will become a full member in July next year.

We are talking about Serbia today. Serbia is a key country for the entire Western Balkan region, from a political, strategic, historical, economic and cultural perspective.

It is very pleasing to hear and read the positive reports coming from Belgrade and from Serbia. It is entirely possible that the first half of 2012 will, in the future, be regarded as a period of historical importance, marking a key breakthrough in the integration of Serbia. From this perspective, the February meeting with Pristina on the representation of Kosovo in regional groupings is of fundamental significance. The granting of candidate status is, of course, also of fundamental significance.

We must keep up the tempo, however, which means that the Commission must enable Serbia to begin membership talks as soon as possible. The Serbs will also have to fulfil their domestic obligations of course, which means continuing with the internal reform process and the approximation of European law, as well as the normalisation of relations with Kosovo.

This is the main substance of the report. We, as social democrats, support this report, and wish the Serbs much success on the path to the European Union.

 
  
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  Stanimir Ilchev (ALDE). – (BG) Mr President, the report we are discussing today has many merits because its author, Mr Kacin, is a great authority on the Western Balkans and the situation in Serbia. The report also contains the wonderful news about the new status of the Serbian state. This status is well-deserved because Serbian society has made, and continues to make great efforts toward reforms.

It will come as no surprise then if we stress very often today the dialogue between Belgrade and Priština. This will be a prism through which we will assess Serbian policy for a long time – to see whether it is sensible and beneficial.

Another important prism for judging domestic policy is the policy on minorities. The idea for a change expressed by the rapporteur in paragraph 2 is extremely important. We will now have a chance to fight for the rights of all minorities as part of European standards, and not as part of the law of former Yugoslavia.

It would be logical for us to expect quick progress in this area. Is it that difficult, for example, for prayers to God to be said in Bulgarian in Bulgarian churches? Is it necessary to impose the Serbian naming system, through administrative pressure, on newborn Bulgarian children? Is it acceptable to hinder the Bulgarians in Bosilegradsko and Pirotsko from celebrating their holidays?

There is no alternative but to quickly change the old stereotypes. It is imperative, and it will be very important to Serbia’s progress.

 
  
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  Marije Cornelissen (Verts/ALE). Mr President, we welcome the major steps that Serbia has taken to gain candidate status, notably the capture of Mladić and Hadžić and the constructive resumption of the dialogue with Kosovo – although Serbia still has quite a lot to prove in that regard.

The negotiations should start as soon as possible so that Serbia can start working even harder on sustainable and profound reform, starting with Chapters 23 and 24. We expect Serbia to remedy the huge flaws in its review of the judiciary. While its initiative to start carrying out this review is commendable, taking the initiative is really not enough. They do not seem to realise that the execution of the process is at least as important, and the way this has been done now reflects badly on them.

We expect Serbia to improve the position of ethnic minorities so that they will have a good future in Serbia and will not feel they need to ask for asylum in the EU. We expect Serbia to combat extremism, xenophobia and homophobia so that this coming October the people of Belgrade can walk freely and safely in a Gay Pride parade. I will be there too.

We also expect Serbia to continue fighting corruption and organised crime.

We expect Serbia to do all this not only because it bring accession closer and is popular in the polls (or not), but mainly because it means a brighter future for all Serbians.

 
  
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  Adam Bielan (ECR). – (PL) Mr President, after the recent signing of an accession treaty with Croatia, the granting of candidate country status to Serbia is another step in the strategy of enlargement into the Balkans. The Republic of Serbia has shown its full commitment to Union membership for several years, which has included attempts to compensate for and clarify the unfortunate events of the last two decades as well as improvements in relations with its neighbours. I am definitely in favour of starting accession negotiations as quickly as possible in order to speed up the integration process as much as possible. Extending the visa-free scheme would be an excellent tool to increase cooperation with all Member States.

Experience to date has shown that enlargement policy brings long-lasting benefits to all of the Union. The enlargements in 2004 and 2007 strengthened the Union’s ability to deal with the subsequent crisis. As the largest integrated economic area in the world, it now generates over 30% of global GDP. Internal trade in goods and services has brought about an increase in the average income of citizens and has reduced unemployment. I believe that the inclusion of additional countries will help to increase prosperity in European societies. Greater stability and security throughout the continent is a benefit of every enlargement that has been insufficiently recognised.

 
  
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  Alojz Peterle. (PPE). – (SL) Mr President, I am very pleased that, in this report, we have welcomed the progress made by Serbia with regard to reforms and the agreement with Kosovo. With what it has achieved, it has met the conditions for being granted the status of candidate country.

This progress not only signifies an extremely important formal step for Serbia, it is also proof that Serbia is implementing its European ambitions whilst pursuing better relations with its neighbours.

This fact forms a basis for confidence in the enhanced dynamics of the accession process as well as in the consistent implementation of what has already been agreed.

Now it is very important that Serbia continues its process of democratic transition in a spirit of respect for diversity, the rule of law, a social market economy and other European standards.

The introduction of these standards will mean less corruption, fairer privatisation, more justice and respect for various identities and minorities, as well as more women in positions of responsibility.

This would also enhance the importance and effectiveness of Serbia as a very important player in a region in which the past tends to overshadow the desire for peaceful coexistence and closer cooperation

I sincerely congratulate Serbia on the progress achieved and on its candidate status, and I hope it will not have to wait long for the negotiations to open.

I also congratulate the rapporteur, Mr Kacin, and the shadow rapporteurs for a job well done.

 
  
  

IN THE CHAIR: JACEK PROTASIEWICZ
Vice-President

 
  
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  Kristian Vigenin (S&D). - (BG) Mr President, Commissioner, Minister, ladies and gentlemen, I would first like to congratulate the people of Serbia for receiving candidate country status at the last European Council. The decision is well-deserved recognition of the reforms implemented in the country.

The authorities in Serbia are steadfastly maintaining their European course and carrying out their commitments and promises in spite of the difficult political and economic situation. This is reflected in the report of the European Parliament.

The European Union is continuing its work on the enlargement process despite the economic problems, debt crisis and pressure on the single currency. Placed in the context of the progress of most countries from the region which are on the road to the EU, this step for Serbia demonstrates the Union’s sustained commitment to the Western Balkans, made in 2003.

Serbia needs timely, unequivocal support for the pro-European political forces, given the upcoming parliamentary elections at the beginning of May. I believe that Parliament’s report provides such support. The next, and perhaps most important test for the country will be the start of membership negotiations, which will, in practice, make its European integration irreversible. The European Parliament will work towards this.

 
  
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  Andrey Kovachev (PPE). – (BG) Mr President, Europe, in particular South-East Europe, needs a democratic Serbia, and the European Union must work towards a political environment that supports the process of democratic reforms in Serbia so that the country can finally break with the communism, post-communism and, especially, the nationalism inherited from former Yugoslavia.

Such support for the democratic process is shown by giving Serbia candidate country status. As always, success depends largely on the will of the country itself. Serbia must make very difficult decisions on the road to its European future, and I believe that, with its current policy, the country is going in the right direction.

Topics such as the rights of all citizens, regardless of their ethnic origin, as well as resolving the problems with its neighbours, are also part of the process of moving closer to the European Union.

I would like to draw particular attention to the unfair position of an oft-forgotten minority in the economically underdeveloped part of Serbia – the Bulgarian minority. More investments and opportunities are needed in this region if young people are to remain there, along with the guarantee that teaching in schools is provided in their mother tongue and textbooks are available in Bulgarian.

Finally, I again urge colleagues from Serbia, the Serbian Assembly and the government, not to ignore the past, but to follow the example of all the countries to the east of Berlin and declassify the archives of the communist secret services from the time of former Yugoslavia, in the name of transparency and reconciliation. The shadows of the past cannot lead us to a democratic European future.

 
  
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  Kinga Gál (PPE).(HU) Mr President, we noted with satisfaction that Serbia has been granted candidate status, with the next step being the commencement of accession negotiations. We know that this road will not be an easy one. There is a great deal of headway to be made, but every step taken towards conformity with the relevant criteria and the solidification of the rule of law will still in some way be for the benefit of Serbian citizens. An important aspect of the report – and here I must give thanks to Mr Schöpflin, and to the rapporteur, Mr Kacin, for his receptiveness and open-mindedness – is that by stressing the necessity of the protection of minority rights it accords proper weight and attention to the relevant Copenhagen criterion. I am particularly pleased that considerations important to the Hungarian community of Vojvodina could be incorporated in the text in the form of expectations towards Serbia which, if complied with, can promote the welfare of these communities in their homeland and give them access to equal opportunities. It is important for Serbia not to repeat the mistakes of others by considering the interests of these national communities only temporarily, with a view to obtaining accession, and even then only in theory, but to ensure that these efforts have a practical impact on the everyday lives of the citizens concerned. Our obligation continues to be to monitor these processes.

 
  
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  László Tőkés (PPE).(HU) Mr President, I would first of all like to congratulate Mr Kacin on his enlargement report. I would like to highlight in particular the criteria for the protection of minorities included in the document. Compliance with the Copenhagen criteria and the relevant provisions of the Treaty of Lisbon was an essential prerequisite of the Council of Ministers for Foreign Affairs’ finally granting Serbia candidate status on 1 March. The consistency shown by the European Council in respect of the protection of minorities in Serbia, including the Romanians and the Vlachs, could serve as a lesson to Slovakia and Romania, both of whom suffer from a minority policy deficit.

The Council conclusions, as well as the motion for a resolution on Serbia itself, serve the reinforcement of collective minority rights, in no small part by requiring the continuous monitoring of Serbia’s minority policy. We Hungarians support Serbia’s accession to the European Union, but at the same time we demand justice for the mass murders committed against minorities in the past, as well as community rights and autonomy for our Hungarian community that exists in the country to this day. In respect of the protection of Hungarians living in Serbia we follow the example of Romania, who firmly stood up for the Romanians of Timočka Krajina.

 
  
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  Paulo Rangel (PPE).(PT) Mr President, I should basically like to say that we are very pleased to note that steps have been made towards Serbia’s inclusion in the European Union. This is very important because the experience of countries like Portugal, Spain and Greece, which were countries that lived through dictatorships and had a range of very serious problems, is the experience that European integration was how democracy was consolidated. Serbia too, therefore, deserves this opportunity.

In any case, I should now like to raise an issue a little different to that raised by my fellow Members. I am aware of and enthusiastically welcome the concern for minorities, but we must not forget the Serb majority: it is crucial that the Serbs themselves play a part, a full part, in the European Union. This cannot be forgotten. There can be no peace in the Balkans without Serbia, so however much we stress the rights of minorities, which must be respected, we cannot forget the Serb majority, their identity and their right to be full European citizens, the same as any others, with their own country and their own national pride.

 
  
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  Giuseppe Gargani (PPE).(IT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, I believe that at a time of crisis in Europe – because the debate in this House by all the groups regarding the agreement of 1 March has shown that the Community is in crisis – it is very significant that a country such as Serbia should be given the status of candidate for EU membership.

I believe that it is a key moment, and I agree with the representatives of the Commission and of the Council, and with the rapporteur, that Serbia has taken many steps forward but must continue to solve problems and find uniformity with Europe.

I believe this is a time of stability and a time of security for Europe and that the new relationship that Serbia is beginning to establish with Kosovo gives great hope not only to Italy, because its borders are closer, more adjacent, but also to all of Europe, which I believe has an interest in peace as a whole being guaranteed. I believe that we need to monitor behaviour, but I think all of us should be pleased about this rapprochement.

 
  
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  Eduard Kukan (PPE). - (SK) Mr President, I applaud the fine work of the rapporteur, Jelek Kacin. The result is a report that objectively reflects the situation in Serbia, and Serbia’s relations with the EU. Serbia has deservedly achieved the status of candidate country. It now has an opportunity to exploit its own potential and join the frontrunners for European integration. I would therefore like to cheer on our Serbian colleagues. Candidate status is, after all, just the beginning of a difficult and lengthy task.

I am pleased that the dialogue between Serbia and Kosovo is continuing. Dialogue and agreements must contribute to better relations and to the gradual removal of anomalies between the partners. The implementation of agreements in good faith, mutual respect for partners in dialogue and avoidance of unnecessary tension are also important. Serbia has some hard work to do. A convinced pro-European orientation will be required from the politicians who are able to reform the country and move ahead. Serbia has the potential to manage this process successfully, and it also has our full support in this.

 
  
 

Catch-the-eye procedure

 
  
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  Csaba Sógor (PPE).(HU) Mr President, the countries of the Western Balkans all chose to walk the path of European integration. It is from this process that the inhabitants of the region hope to see an improvement in their living standards, as well as an economic upturn and the settlement of ethnic tensions. The citizens of Serbia, whether Serbs or Hungarians, Roma or Romanians, Albanians or Croats, all hope for this as well. Yet if the EU does not pay sufficient attention to addressing minority issues, these future EU citizens will find themselves disappointed in us. The best way to treat interethnic tensions is through the granting of political autonomy. For Serbia’s province of Vojvodina, too, this is the way of the future.

For a long time, this also seemed to be the right solution in the case of Kosovo, but the time for settlement within state borders ran out. I ask the Commission and the Member States to not allow countries in the region that follow the path of accession to lose their European perspective. To this end we should pay attention to their problems even if it means involvement in the settlement of interethnic relations.

 
  
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  Franz Obermayr (NI).(DE) Mr President, despite the fact that for Serbia the path to full membership will be a long and tough one, candidate status represents a significant step forward, particularly for a country that only 13 years ago was the target of NATO attacks. Serbia is culturally, historically and geographically a European country in every respect. In addition, Serbia and Belgrade have proved over the last year that they are able to fulfil the accession criteria.

As a result of the visa liberalisation which was introduced in December 2009, a growing number of asylum seekers has been arriving in the EU. Unfortunately, the relaxation of visa requirements is being used for the purposes of trafficking in false asylum seekers. It is true that the majority of the asylum seekers are members of the ethnic minorities. However, Serbia itself is also a destination for asylum seekers. Therefore, as part of the accession negotiations, the EU must call for the establishment of an efficient asylum system in Serbia and must give this system its support.

 
  
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  Csaba Sándor Tabajdi (S&D).(HU) Mr President, the fact that the European Council granted Serbia candidate status before the country’s parliamentary elections in May was of utmost importance. The Community has acknowledged Serbia’s efforts towards compliance with the Copenhagen criteria. The progress of Serbia’s integration has great significance to and a crucial role in ensuring the stability of the entire Balkan region. The system for the protection of minorities that has been established in Serbia is highly important. Many EU Member States would be proud to have a minority protection system such as the one Serbia has set up, but I must remind our Serbian friends that such a system also requires sufficient funding. As regards Kosovo, I implore the Commission and the Council not to impose impossible conditions on Serbia. In order for progress to be made in respect of the relationship between Serbia and Kosovo, both parties, not just Serbia but the Albanians of Kosovo, too, must make appropriate concessions.

 
  
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  Andrew Henry William Brons (NI). - Mr President, we are not only opposed to the UK’s membership of the EU, we are opposed to the institution itself, which is intentionally destructive of national identities and sovereignties. We would therefore urge all countries, including Serbia, to decide against membership.

The EU’s interference in Serbian internal affairs is to be deprecated. Encouraging Serbia to embrace neo-liberal globalist economic policies is not in Serbia’s interest. Attempts to foist social liberalism on a socially conservative society like that of Serbia have led to violence, inevitable repression and resentment. The true purpose of such measures is not to protect the real interests of sexual minorities, but to politicise them and generate friction with their neighbours.

Furthermore, it is in the UK’s interest to oppose enlargement, especially the entry of relatively poor countries, the inclusion of which will lead to greater net contributions from the donor countries and mass migration from the newly admitted states.

 
  
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  Petru Constantin Luhan (PPE).(RO) Mr President, the evaluation made by the European Commission in October regarding Serbia’s advancement on the European path should build on the fulfilment of the Copenhagen criteria, the protection of the rights of persons belonging to national minorities being an important part thereof.

Regarding the situation of Romanian minorities throughout Serbia, I do not think that we are dealing with a bilateral situation, but with one related to the fulfilment of political criteria. Building upon the principle of self-identification, Serbia needs to implement the legislation on minorities coherently, that is, throughout its territory, and consistently, that is, for all minorities. It is necessary to ensure access to education, religious services, mass-media and public administration in Romanian for all those who identify themselves as Romanians.

The implementation of recommendations agreed by Romania and the Republic of Serbia in the Protocol of 1 March this year on national minorities should be an assessment criterion for the European Commission’s report in October.

 
  
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  Krisztina Morvai (NI).(HU) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, I know of at least two groups of people who would not recognise the country we are discussing here today. One of them are the Hungarians living in Serbia, who must continuously and regularly endure the gravest human rights violations, including physical abuse, for so much as using the Hungarian language, their mother tongue. The other group are the members of the European Council, who had conducted a similar debate and adopted a decision in which they found Serbia guilty of serious human rights violations, namely violations against indigenous national minorities. It seems that we now coyly avoid this subject and refrain from mentioning it. My time is short so I would just like to highlight the ethnic cleansing that is taking place, that is, the forceful settlement of refugees of war among the Hungarian population in Vojvodina, as well as the language rights infringements I already mentioned. I would also like to call for territorial autonomy for Hungarians in the same fashion as it was granted to South Tyrol.

 
  
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  Petri Sarvamaa (PPE). - Mr President, having personally witnessed the recent history of the Balkans as a foreign news correspondent, I cannot underline strongly enough the huge importance of this process for stability and understanding in that region. This is not just an opportunity but a duty for us. It is incumbent upon us to do what we can to silence the remaining voices of chauvinism and intolerant nationalism in Serbia. However, we would be foolish to repeat the somewhat lax approach to this round of enlargement that we witnessed in the previous round. Therefore I will be voting for amendments that require strict fulfilment of the most important preconditions for membership, including that of ensuring the protection of minorities.

 
  
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  Danuta Jazłowiecka (PPE). - (PL) Mr President, the last few months have been particularly important for the future of the Western Balkans. This area, which until recently was a source of constant worry for Europe, is slowly beginning to stabilise. Again one sees how effective the Union’s enlargement policy can be. Even the possibility of membership results in the states in this area making enormous efforts to adapt their legislation and economies to the rules in force in the European Union. Of course this is done with greater or lesser success, but one has to appreciate the enormous determination shown to overcome problems.

This is particularly true in the case of Serbia. This country, which has experienced years of war, economic sanctions and ineffective and autocratic regimes, is entering a period of positive developments. The very fact that it was possible to reach a compromise on relations with Kosovo shows the determination of Serbian politicians to follow the European path. For this reason, Belgrade should feel our strong support and should see that we appreciate the efforts that are being made. This is particularly important now, when the economic crisis is impacting on society in Serbia and when there is growing frustration and discouragement. We cannot leave Serbia alone with its problems. We should take special interest in the development of young people in Serbia.

 
  
 

(End of the catch-the-eye procedure)

 
  
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  Štefan Füle, Member of the Commission. Mr President, let me thank you for this rich debate, which has demonstrated the continuing support of the House for the European Union integration process of Serbia.

I have heard a lot of statements on a number of issues, some of which have been mentioned repeatedly. However, when I heard the expression ‘ethnic cleansing’ I looked round, just to make sure that the country we were talking about was Serbia and the year we were talking about was 2012. As the Commission and the Council have declared, we intend to monitor closely the protection of minorities in Serbia and work hand in hand with the relevant international and European stakeholders, in particular the OSCE and especially its High Commissioner for National Minorities, and the Council of Europe. The Commission will report on these issues in the next progress report, to be issued in October 2012.

I have taken good note of your wish to see Serbia move rapidly to the next step, the opening of accession negotiations. I fully subscribe to this objective, provided the criteria are fulfilled. We will therefore, as always, carefully monitor and assess how Serbia fulfils the particular criteria, in particular the state of play in the key areas of democratic institutions, judicial reform, the fight against corruption and organised crime, human rights and the protection of minorities.

Regarding the key priority – the improvement of relations with Kosovo – we will be looking at several aspects: the implementation in good faith of agreements (as already mentioned), progress on outstanding issues such as telecommunications and energy, and active cooperation with EULEX to enable it to exercise its function throughout Kosovo. It should also be clear that new controversial issues should be avoided – for instance, Serbia needs to refrain from holding local elections in Kosovo.

I am glad you agree with the merits of the new approach for Chapters 23 and 24, which will in time also be applicable to Serbia. I sincerely hope, as you do, that, on the basis of the strong foundations laid by Serbia in order to achieve candidate status, we will open another very dynamic phase in the next stage of our relations with Serbia.

 
  
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  Nicolai Wammen, President-in-Office of the Council.(DA) Mr President, Commissioner, honourable Members, Mr Kacin, EU enlargement is a success story for the EU and for Europe and, after this excellent debate, I look forward to continuing our enhanced cooperation with the European Parliament during our Presidency, not only with regard to Serbia’s integration process, but in respect of all the countries with an EU perspective.

Serbia has been granted EU candidate status as a result of its positive reform efforts in many different areas. It has carried out important reforms in a short space of time, particularly in the areas of the rule of law and fundamental rights, and it has cooperated with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in an entirely satisfactory way and engaged intensively in regional cooperation. Progress in the Belgrade-Priština dialogue will be very significant, not only for Serbia and Kosovo, but for the region as a whole, and the recent breakthrough is an example to be followed. It is pragmatic solutions, not inflexible attitudes, that are crucial when difficult conflicts are to be resolved.

There is a continuing need for progress both internally within Serbia and externally, for example in relations between Belgrade and Priština. Progress in relation to EU integration is, as we all know, based on merit. How much progress Serbia has made next will be assessed in connection with the Commission’s progress report in the autumn. It is my hope that we will be able to initiate accession negotiations with Serbia as soon as possible.

During the discussions today we have touched on a number of the areas in which reforms are required. I will just highlight a few key problems. It is vital that the efforts to combat corruption and organised crime continue. Serbia has made huge strides in combating organised crime and has worked well and actively with its neighbouring countries, which has resulted in a number of significant arrests. There is no doubt that effective cooperation with neighbouring countries is important in view of the cross-border nature of organised crime. The Serbian authorities have done some important work in this area, and I hope the authorities will take the success in combating organised crime as inspiration to also make an extra effort to combat corruption, which is an area where there is still a great deal of work to be done.

With regard to the economy, there is a need to implement structural reforms in order to promote productivity, limit the state budget deficit and alleviate the effects of the international economic crisis, particularly for the most vulnerable sections of society. In this regard, it is a positive step that the Serbian Government has taken important initiatives to promote conditions for growth for small and medium-sized enterprises.

Finally, I would like to draw attention to the enormous amount of effort that Serbia has made in contributing to regional reconciliation. Over the last four years, the government, with President Tadić at the helm, has made a vital contribution to healing the wounds left by the acts of war in the 1990s. In so doing, the country has played its part in enabling the whole of the Western Balkans to look forward to a brighter future. This is obviously something that we in the EU should recognise and support, and at the same time, we in Parliament, the Commission and the Council are doing everything we can to encourage Serbia to remain on the path of reform so that the negotiations with the EU can get underway more quickly.

 
  
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  President. - I have received one motion for a resolution(1) submitted pursuant to Rule 110(2) of the Rules of Procedure.

The debate is closed.

The vote will take place on Thursday, 29 March 2012.

Written statements (Rule 149)

 
  
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  Zoltán Bagó (PPE), in writing.(HU) I welcome the Commission’s enlargement report on Serbia, as it offers a detailed and comprehensive account of the progress made by Serbia so far. Furthermore, I would like to point out that on 1 March Serbia was granted official candidate status, which demonstrates the EU’s commitment to the country’s prospects as part of the European Union. I welcome all the steps and numerous efforts undertaken by Serbia to ensure the country’s compliance with the Copenhagen political criteria. Stabilising the county is of prime importance not only to guaranteeing the safety of the Western Balkan region, but also for EU security policy reasons. I would like to stress that Serbia’s future progress in the process of integration will greatly depend on the timely resolution of any remaining internal and foreign policy and economic issues, including the matter of minorities, and the maintenance of a good neighbourhood policy and regional cooperation. I am of the opinion that the changes and reforms implemented by the country so far point in the right direction, and as regards the remaining measures the EU must provide all necessary means.

 
  
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  Tadeusz Cymański (EFD), in writing. (PL) Coming from a country that just a decade or so ago was in a similar position to Serbia today, I fully understand how our Slavonic friends from that country, which lies on the Danube, now feel. Serbia is a country that stood shoulder to shoulder with us in the construction of European civilisation, sharing the same Christian beliefs and, on more than one occasion, having to shed blood for those beliefs. Like Poles, they too remember the decisive Battle of Vienna against the Ottoman Empire. Serbs are proud of their sacrifices during the Battle of Kosovo.

Today, Serbia is a modern state that has made enormous political, economic and social progress. The 1990s, a tragic period for Balkan states, are now in the past. In the 21st century, Serbia is fast developing into a democratic and open country that has become a regional leader. I therefore fully support the report encouraging the European Council to begin negotiations, at a time which is so important for Serbia, before the elections that, let us hope, will finally demonstrate that Serbian society too is looking to Europe. I would also call on the European Union, when it takes steps to accept Serbia into the Union, to accord full respect to its traditions, its cultural heritage and the values rooted deep in the society of our Serbian brothers.

 
  
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  Kinga Göncz (S&D), in writing.(HU) The European Union’s granting of candidate status to Serbia in March this year represents a major success for the country. This achievement required Belgrade to show the necessary willingness to compromise and agree on a range of matters of importance with Pristina. These agreements are meant to make the everyday lives of citizens on both sides of the country border easier. The dialogue must go on, and the agreements signed must be implemented as soon as possible. Belgrade’s approximation to the European Union is good news for the Hungarian population of Vojvodina, and for Hungary whose fundamental interest lies in being surrounded by democratic countries governed by the rule of law and possessing developed market economies. The progress of the accession processes of Serbia and other countries in the Western Balkans depends not only on the European Union’s ability to strictly enforce the application of its own values and norms in the candidate countries but also on its ability to consistently make its own Member States conform to them. Belgrade must exert stronger pressure than ever on dissident Serb factions both in Kosovo and in Bosnia in order to reconcile the parties involved and normalise the situation. I am confident that the upcoming Serbian elections will see a strengthening of democratic forces that have a friendly attitude towards Europe, enabling Serbia to take the next step in the process of EU accession.

 
  
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  Jiří Havel (S&D), in writing. - (CS) The granting of candidate status to Serbia is undoubtedly an important step. It has undeniable significance in the context of the further development of the Balkans, and must therefore be welcomed. It will now be important to exploit this positive impetus, particularly in Serbia itself. In order to avoid candidate status losing its impact, accession talks should start without delay. There is no justification for any further delay here. We know that Serbia is now at least as well prepared for such talks as Croatia was in the autumn of 2005. It is highly desirable to make as many members of the Serbian public as possible aware of our common political will - in May parliamentary elections will be held there. The Kosovo question, however, still remains open. The Czech Social Democratic Party is, in European politics, on the side of those that disagree with its unilateral declaration of independence. I personally consider it an error to make the integration of Serbia into Europe conditional on its relations with Kosovo. For the same reason, I feel embarrassed about the fact that the European Commission will begin scheduling a ‘feasibility study’ on Kosovo, aimed at assessing the possibility of drawing up a stabilisation and association agreement. I am nevertheless aware of the fact that this is a political price which must be paid at the moment, in order to escape the gridlock. However, only time will tell what actual benefit there may be for us in this.

 
  
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  Iosif Matula (PPE), in writing. – (RO) I support the enlargement of the European Union by the accession of Western Balkan countries and, implicitly, that of Serbia, provided that they put into practice the Copenhagen criteria. Just as Romania had to meet strict principles regarding the rights of minorities, and currently stands as an example in this respect, Serbia too will have to align to the European model in this area if it wishes to join the EU.

I am referring to the situation of national minorities in general and of the Romanian minority in particular, regardless of the different names under which the latter is found or of the number of citizens more or less formally recognised. Ethnic Romanians demand, above all, education, religious services and mass-media in their mother tongue, which are normal rights in a democracy. Unfortunately, they are consistently denied these requests and problems have lingered on for years, as Serbian authorities have not adopted yet the EU practice regarding the treatment of national minorities. In these circumstances, until this issue is adequately settled, I believe it is useful that the European Commission monitors the implementation of European standards concerning minority rights in Serbia.

 
  
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  Andreas Mölzer (NI), in writing. – (DE) It should be clear that the EU is not the only option open to Serbia and that it is all too easy to forget the country’s long-established links with Russia. The mood of crisis in the European Union and the fear of further coercion with regard to the Kosovo question have led to the Serbs being less than enthusiastic about their country’s status as a candidate for accession. Quite apart from the fact that Kosovo’s independence represents a breach of United Nations Resolution 1244, which is why the newly established country is not recognised by all EU Member States, the EU is taking too lightly the fears of the Kosovo Serbs that they will be pushed into a corner by the oppressive Albanian majority. By ignoring the people who are affected by this issue, we are going against European values. Kosovo represents a threat to the stability of the Balkans. It is an artificial state created as a result of pressure from the United States and it could not survive without generous funding from Brussels. This region, which declared its independence in breach of international law and contrary to UN Resolution 1244, certainly cannot join the EU in its current form.

 
  
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  Radvilė Morkūnaitė-Mikulėnienė (PPE), in writing. Serbia’s reform progress is to be welcomed and further encouraged, especially in light of the upcoming elections in Serbia. Much still needs to be done to implement the obligations and agreements undertaken by Serbia – especially as regards improving the business environment. The recent experiences of foreign investors in Serbia are very discouraging. Winners of privatisation tenders invested tens of millions, but were challenged by public institutions and forced to leave. Dubious decisions by Serbian institutions are now being contested internationally. The Commission must monitor very closely the progress committed to in December 2011 and February 2012 and report back at the end of this year. Another issue is reconciliation with the Communist past. This process is moving forward in many former Communist block countries, but not in Serbia. Serbia was the first country in the region to adopt its Lustration Law, but later annulled it as infringing the Constitution. I cannot see how truth and justice can infringe the Constitution of a democratic state? I call on Serbia to adopt the necessary legislation and open up its communist-times archives to its citizens as well as to other countries without further delay.

 
  
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  Vladko Todorov Panayotov (ALDE), in writing. On 1 March 2012, the EU countries decided to give Serbia the status of official candidate for EU membership. I welcome this decision as I welcome the economic, social and political efforts made by Serbia under the leadership of President Boris Tadić, who has proved to have a strong pro-European influence on his country. The upcoming elections on 6 May will hopefully give place to a Serbian Parliament which will keep on following the country’s current line towards EU integration. Relations with Pristina remain a sensitive issue in the region but the dialogue is progressing considering the recentness of Kosovo’s independence. Moreover, it is important to remember that, to this day, five EU countries have still not recognised the state of Kosovo for fear of independence willingness in their own country. We should keep in mind that the question of Kosovo’s status concerns the whole EU and not only Serbia. Finally, I would like to congratulate the Romanian Government, which has come to a compromise with the Serbian State on the matter of Bulgarian and Romanian minorities’ rights in Serbia. Compromises will indeed be necessary; Serbia is the largest ex-Yugoslav republic and it is undeniable that the future of the Western Balkans lies in the EU.

 
  
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  Ioan Mircea Paşcu (S&D), in writing. Only 15 years ago, such a debate on Serbia’s candidacy for EU membership would have been unthinkable. The nucleus of a war-broken federal state, Serbia was marginalized within the ‘New Europe’. Everything which had happened there was a tragedy both for the former Yugoslav peoples, including the Serbs, and for the entire continent. After the break-away of Slovenia and Croatia, war broke out in Bosnia-Herzegovina, and bombing took place over the separation of Kosovo. However, the last separation – Montenegro – took place peacefully, reflecting the maturity and courage of the new Serbian leadership, and primarily of President Tadić. Indeed, the current Serb leadership has taken decisive steps which have made this debate possible: it has captured two long-sought war criminals, Karadžić and Mladić, and has handled properly the independence of Kosovo. That was all possible because it understood that the only chance for Serbia was to cut loose from the past and concentrate on the future – a future which engaged the country inevitably on the path to EU integration. That has been correctly understood by Serbia and I am confident that this country will fulfil the ensuing obligations, including by helping to maintain stability in a very sensitive and important area of the continent.

 
  
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  Anna Záborská (PPE), in writing. - (SK) The start of accession talks with the EU was a historic moment for Serbia. It was the first step on the path away from the legacy of Tito's communist regime. The talks - and above all the clear prospect of Serbia’s future membership in the EU - are key to achieving lasting stability in the war-torn Balkans. The possibility of obtaining a European passport in the foreseeable future - along with open access to the single market for labour, goods and services - also has a motivating effect on Serbian minorities living in surrounding countries. For Serbs living outside Serbia, it is also a convincing argument in favour of constructively seeking a method of co-existence built not on conflict, but on mutual respect and compromise. It would be naive if we were to convince ourselves that the prospect of EU membership will eliminate all conflicts in the Balkans once and for all. Many of them have been dragging on for centuries, and will take years to overcome, and possibly decades. I firmly believe, however, that the opening of the accession talks will create the necessary space for this.

 
  

(1) See Minutes.

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