Speaker advocates accelerating enlargement process in Brussels

Brussels – National Assembly Speaker Igor Zorčič said Slovenia would seek to accelerate the enlargement process during its EU presidency as he took part in the summit between the European Parliament and parliamentary speakers from the Western Balkans in Brussels on Monday, which noted the role of parliaments in the enlargement process.

For Slovenia, the meeting was interesting mainly from the aspect of its presidency of the Council of the EU, being that the Western Balkans is one of the presidency’s priorities, Zorčič told reporters in Brussels after the meeting.

He believes the signals from the meeting today indicated a major challenge for the Slovenian presidency.

The debate showed “the idea of the enlargement process is still very much alive and enjoys support in the broader parliamentary segment”.

But he also noted some bilateral divisions, including the row between North Macedonia and Bulgaria, with the latter blocking accession talks with Skopje over the Macedonian language and identity.

Zorčič indicated that Slovenia will try to speed up the process to integrate the region into the EU during its presidency. The country is considering hosting a meeting of parliamentary speakers from the Western Balkans.

“The Western Balkans is our close neighbourhood, we are linked historically and have well developed economic cooperation, which makes us the more motivated that the EU should enlarge to countries in the region,” Zorčič said at the meeting as quoted by the Slovenian permanent mission in Brussels.

He warned of negative aspects of the slowdown in the enlargement process. “Further delaying of the integration process would be detrimental to Western Balkan countries, which are committed to EU ideas as well as to the European efforts to secure lasting peace, stability and cooperation in the region and to establish European standards and values,” said the speaker.

At the invitation of European Parliament President David Sassoli, the summit was attended by the speakers from Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Kosovo, North Macedonia and Serbia and vice-president of the Portuguese parliament, aside from Zorčič.

In a joint statement they reaffirmed the central role of parliaments in driving forward the enlargement process. “In the joint statement we called on the Council of the EU to deliver on its promises and urgently take decisive action to accelerate the enlargement process,” Sassoli said.

Zorčič also took part in a session of the European Parliament’s Committee on Foreign Affairs. The session, which also featured Bulgarian MEPs, showed appeasing relations between Bulgaria and North Macedonia would be “a very hard nut to crack”, said Zorčič.

The speaker held several bilateral meetings on the sidelines of the summit, including his counterpart from North Macedonia Talat Xhaferi, who thanked Slovenia for the support in his countries’ efforts to join the EU.

The two speakers agreed that parliaments could play a key role in restoring trust in the EU’s enlargement policy, and that member states should not apply blockade of accession talks to resolve their bilateral issues.

Zorčič agreed with his Serbian counterpart Ivica Dačić to arrange for a meeting of delegations from both parliaments as soon as possible in order to revive inter-parliamentary cooperation.

After meeting Zorčič, European Crisis Management Commissioner Janez Lenarčič, who comes from Slovenia, tweeted that they had talked about Slovenia’s EU presidency and the role of the national parliament in this period “in particular when it comes to fundamental EU values – the foundations of coexistence and prosperity for Europeans”.