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Thank you very much.
Let me start by an unusual apology. Together with Commissioner [for European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations, Johannes] Hahn we had planned to brief the AFET [Affaires étrangères] committee before the press conference; due to a little bit of delay in the College, this has been impossible. So I start with a sort of institutional apology to the AFET committee through public and media channels. Thank you for allowing us this.
Today, the College adopted its annual Enlargement package with seven individual reports for the Western Balkans partners and Turkey. In the package, we are assessing the implementation of the European Union's Enlargement policy, in an extremely detailed way. As the package reconfirms, the European Union enlargement policy is for us an investment. First of all, an investment in peace, in security, in prosperity and in the stability of Europe.
It is our own interest to have a successful Enlargement policy. It provides increased economic and trade opportunities to the mutual benefits of the European Union and the countries aspiring to join. It is also a very important factor that drives transformation in countries and societies, and increases stability and security in the countries concerned. The process itself is built on very clearly established criteria, and fair and strict conditionality. Therefore each country and partner is assessed on the basis of its own merits, also to provide specific incentives to drive the reforms forward.
I will leave the details to Commissioner Hahn, but I will say a few words on the Western Balkans, since I am also travelling to the region once again tonight, heading to Tirana, Skopje, Podgorica and Belgrade in the next – I am afraid - two days. I have said it many times, we have said it many times: the Western Balkans are Europe and will be part of the European Union's future, of a stronger, stable and united European Union. And it is a matter of shared interest and shared responsibility with the countries of the region, for the benefit of all our citizens, inside and outside the Union.
This is the moment in which we recognise positive change in order to make irreversible progress towards the European Union. We have strengthened our engagement with the region from our side, through the Western Balkan Strategy, with a very important visit President [of the European Commission, Jean-Claude] Junker paid to the region, and we are now preparing with the Bulgarian Presidency the EU-Western Balkans Summit in Sofia, that is not about enlargement but still is going to be a very important moment for the region.
Our commitment and engagements are clear and unequivocal. Let me say that over the past year and beyond, partners from the region have delivered very important reforms across the board and have modernised their economies. Out of six Western Balkan partners two, Montenegro and Serbia, have progressed well in the negotiations. Today, the Commission recommends that the Council decides to open accession negotiations with Albania and with the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. We are also working towards an opinion on Bosnia and Herzegovina's application and with Kosovo's authorities we are working on further progress on the basis of the Stabilisation and Association Agreement we have. And of course we continue - I personally continue - to facilitate the dialogue on normalisation of relations between Belgrade and Pristina, including on the achievement of a legally binding agreement. Obviously, this is a process.
So maintaining and deepening the current reforms must - and I am sure will - continue in all areas in all the partner countries, in particular in the fundamental areas of the rule of law, human rights, democratic institutions and public administration reform, as well as on economic development and competitiveness - in all areas where structural shortcomings are still identified. Countries must - and I am sure will - ensure that the reforms are properly implemented and that they demonstrate a track record of concrete results, not because Brussels asks, but because this is what the people of the region, the citizens, are expecting from their institutions and their leaderships. And we have seen determined, committed political leaderships in this respect.
We will continue to support this work through policy support and through focused financial assistance. And I have to say over the last three years we have seen results that were clearly considered impossible to be achieved when we started our mandate. So this is not the time for acknowledging this and saying the boxes have been ticked, that is it. No, this is the way to invest even more energy and determination in the path of deep reforms - courageous reforms - that bring benefits to the citizens and to the region as a whole. Because in particular when we talk about the enlargement policy for the Balkans - I think I had the chance of seeing this already publicly - we go back to the real meaning of the project of the European Union, which is providing instruments for reconciliation and peace in our continent.
So I believe the months and years ahead will be equally intense. Challenges will be there as always - as always in Europe, as always in the Balkans. But as we have managed in the past three years and a half, I believe that our joint commitment, our joint determination, our joint energy and the support of our people will allow us to make further progress in a common direction. Thank you.
Questions and Answers
Q1 Can I ask you both how you are planning to convince the Council and the Member States, particularly the bigger Member States like France and Germany who have concerns about the high levels of organised crime and other structural issues with Albania? What is the strategy from here and now?
FM: First of all, there is not big and small Member States, we are 28. Second, it is not for the Commission to convince the Council and I can say this both in my role of Vice-President of the Commission and as Chair of the Council in some formations. There is a correct interinstitutional way of work, based on cooperation but also based on the autonomy of roles and judgements. Obviously it is also a matter of coherence, internal coherence, and I believe that, again, it is not for the Commission to convince the Council as it is never the case for the Council to convince the Commission. We are two independent institutional bodies. But as Commissioner Hahn mentioned very clearly, I think, the documents we have approved today as the College of the Commission indicate very clearly, very factually and also very critically the situation as it was, as it is, the recommendations we have to improve further and also the results achieved. I would not go into details about one country or another here – also because, as I said, I am traveling to four of them starting from tonight so I would save more specific communication maybe for my meetings with the press locally. But the steps taken are going exactly in the right direction. The first results are coming and are substantial and these are clearly reflected in our papers. So the decision we took today to recommend the Council to open negotiations with both Albania and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia are based on firm, strict assessments of progress made on recommendations that were previously done – because we have seen recommendations we put forward before, in particular in 2016, measures taken in different capitals, in this case in Tirana but also in Skopje, results starting to come. And the message we are sending today is that this decision to recommend opening negotiations is an encouragement to these countries to continue on the path of reforms; and in fact we mentioned, as Commissioner Hahn mentioned, that maintaining and deepening these reforms is going to be essential. But we recognise that the recommendations were followed, first results are coming and this is factual. Then it is up to the Council, it is up to Member States – all of them, the 28 – to assess this progress on the basis of the facts that we share with them and take their decisions in the European Council; and this is something that maybe, on another side of the square in Brussels, I can answer in a different press room. But I think the good message, the positive message, the encouraging message that both Skopje and Tirana were expecting today from the Commission has come.
Q2 Ms Mogherini, you said that the Western Balkans are Europe and they will be part of the European Union in the future. You did not mention Turkey – is Turkey Europe, will Turkey be a member of the European Union, do you see Turkey in the European Union club in the future?
FM: I said something about the entire package and the entire recommendations and then I specified: "Let me add something specifically on the Western Balkans as I am travelling to the region again tonight". I wanted also to leave Commissioner Hahn some rightly [deserved] merit of what he has been doing in this file because he has been working in an excellent manner on this report and this package. Is Turkey Europe? Sure, Turkey is Europe. Is Turkey a candidate country? Sure, it is a candidate country. We clearly say – if I am not wrong, in the first line – that Turkey is also a key partner for the European Union. Let me say that dealing with foreign and security policy, beyond being a candidate country, Turkey is a strategic regional player that is a partner that is key – even if we do not always agree on everything – on many different files: from the war in Syria to cooperation on energy or transport or business and economic and trade relations to one extremely sensitive issue – that is the Cyprus issue on which we worked hard together last year to try and find a solution, and I hope we could revert to that kind of exercise. So our relations with Turkey are definitely more complex than the purely enlargement-related agenda and you would see in the recommendations and the report very clear statements about the state of play and the recommendations that we put forward for the future. We also say clearly that, as Commissioner Hahn has said, the steps that we have seen related to the enlargement process have to be assessed very frankly and that they bring us to the assessment that we do not envisage to open new chapters with Turkey at the moment. But I would be very interested also in hearing the answer you would get to your questions in Ankara these days. A partnership and a process is always made on two sides.
Q3 Premièrement, vous considérez la question kurde comme une question primordiale à résoudre en Turquie, qu'est-ce que vous préconisez ? Deuxièmement, selon le Parlement européen Afrinest occupée, donc les forces turques doivent se retirer. Est-ce que l'Union européenne est sur cette ligne; si non, qu'est-ce qu'elle préconise ? Ensuite, est-ce que l'Union européenne prévoit au moins une aide humanitaire pour les habitants de cette région ?
FM: We have constantly expressed our position on the fact that the Kurdish question inside Turkey first of all needs to be addressed by the Turkish authorities, and we have repeatedly encouraged the Turkish authorities to resume the policy of dialogue that President Erdoğan himself had put in place in previous years. We know it is a complex issue; we have always repeated this, always clearly also saying that we condemn in the strongest possible terms any terrorist activities from whoever this could come, not only in Turkey but also elsewhere in the world. Coming to Syria, I would avoid linking this to the Enlargement Package; we have a debate in Plenary on Syria and you might get some elements on Afrin as well and on other issues, but this is definitely not linked to the Enlargement Package. If I am not wrong, we have a mentioning to the military operation in Northern Syria that Turkey started recently, so you will find some references to this in the text of the package we adopted today – but let me say that our policy on Syria is something different from the policy that we have on enlargement.
Q4 The President of France today, Mr Macron, said that he does not see how the European Union can accept new members before an internal structural reorganisation of the European Union itself. Do you think that it is possible to see a new wave of enlargement as "Europe à deux vitesses"; that new members will be part maybe of that second circle of the European Union in the future? And the second question: in the report on Serbia, the European Commission said that a key condition still is the normalisation of the relations with Kosovo. But five years ago the agreement was signed between Belgrade and Pristina on the formation of the Community of Serb Municipalities in Kosovo – so some kind of institutional protection of Serbs in Kosovo. Until now, Pristina did not accept – until a few days ago maybe – to begin with that condition. How do you see for Serbia – is it possible to continue and to reach that normalisation if there are no new efforts or boost by the European Union on the side of Pristina?
FM: I will take more the second part of the question, but let me say that I am only glad if the issue of new Member States of our European Union enters the debate on the future of Europe, which was the debate that President Macron was holding today here in the hemicycle. Because the future of the European Union will not be at 28; one Member State is getting out of our Union, new Member States are willing to come in. It is a long process, it has always been a long process and I think they know it perfectly well. And in the meantime, the European Union and its Member States, we are reflecting on how to make our Union more effective in decision-making and policy adoption but also implementation. If these two processes go hand in hand and in parallel, it is only good. It is about the future. And I think we can find good and creative ways of moving forward together. If I can say something that probably is not consolidated enough – but it is just a personal opinion: I would not be surprised, if we ever get to a two-speed Europe, to find some of the current Member States in the second circle and some of the possible future new Member States in the first one; you will never know. But it is about, again, the future of our Union and it is good if that debate takes place.
On the dialogue, I have to say I am positive and optimistic about the possibility for Belgrade and Pristina to reach a legally binding agreement on normalisation of relations. It is obviously mentioned in the package we adopted today, both for Belgrade and for Pristina, as it has always been the case. And as I have repeatedly said: even if there are tensions and difficulties that are constantly arising – actually maybe even exactly because of this – the perspective and the possibility of advancing and reaching an agreement are there. And I strongly believe that the current leadership on the two sides and the population are aware of the fact that this is the time to move forward with determination, with a sense of compromise and with a view to having a better situation for both Pristina and Belgrade. You mentioned that in your question: the beginning of the drafting of the Statute of the Association/Community of the municipalities with Serb majorities has started in Pristina after a long time – too long time. I mentioned that repeatedly, including in Pristina, also in Belgrade and also in Brussels – consistently. I think it is good news that it has started now. I would encourage this work to proceed with determination and with good results and fast, as well as, as you would see in the package we have adopted today, there are also other issues, other things that Belgrade needs to implement of the agreements that were signed. This is also a very important message I have always passed and I constantly pass to both Belgrade and Pristina. I strongly believe – and probably I am the strongest believer – in the fact that an agreement can be reached on normalisation of relations. This does not mean that the implementation of the already signed agreements should not be going forward. On the contrary, the credibility of the new phase of the dialogue is and has to be built on the full implementation of previously agreed texts and I am only happy to see that steps forward are made in this direction on both sides – even if, as I said, the work to be done is still consistent, is still quite relevant. But I see the determination, the political will and the interest to do it.
Link to the video: http://ec.europa.eu/avservices/video/player.cfm?ref=I153818