On the eve of opening the first negotiation
[Prime Minister], Mrs Speaker, Honourable Members,
it is a great honour for me to address the Serbian parliament.
The timing is just right because next Monday, the
European Union and Serbia will open the first two negotiation
chapters, chapters 32 – financial control, and chapter 35 which
deals with the normalisation of relations between Belgrade and
The intergovernmental conference on December 14th
will mark the beginning of the substance of our accession process
and make the perspective of Serbia's joining the EU family not just
an idea, but a tangible and reachable objective.
This is the result of our common efforts and
As assessed in the Commission's report of 10
November, Serbia has reached major achievements on its EU path. Let
me stress here the intensive work to finalise the action plans on
the rule of law, the key agreements with Kosovo, and the important
steps taken to improve regional ties and strengthen relations with
The Serbian government has also moved ahead with
an ambitious economic and structural reform agenda which, I am
confident, will contribute to a more attractive business
environment: restoring growth, improving competitiveness and
creating new jobs. The first encouraging results can already be
I am also impressed by the very positive and
humane manner in which Serbia and Serbian citizens have handled the
unprecedented numbers of refugees and migrants arriving in the
country under very difficult circumstances. This is widely
appreciated by Member States of the European Union. We will support
Serbia in facing this challenge just as we did after the floods of
All this has required courage and effort and shows
Serbia's ability and willingness to deliver.
On our side, we have also been working very hard
to support and drive Serbia towards its strategic goal of membership
of the European Union. I remember the first time I visited Serbia
one year ago in my capacity as Commissioner responsible for
enlargement negotiations. I stressed the depth of my commitment to
Serbia's EU path and I meant business!
The upcoming inter-governmental conference will
show that the EU delivers on its commitments once countries make the
A renewed commitment is needed
We should now build on this momentum. December
14th will mark the beginning of a process, and I am confident that
this process will continue, while allowing the sound implementation
of necessary reforms.
What is needed now is a renewed commitment to move
decisively forward with reforms, in particular in the areas of the
judiciary, the fight against corruption, freedom of expression –
which is non-negotiable from EU perspective -, public
administration, anti-discrimination and the economy.
Equally important is further progress in
normalisation of relations with Kosovo, which is key to moving
forward through accession negotiations.
Serbia needs these reforms not because of the
European Union, but because they have the potential to modernise
Serbia, bringing benefits to its people. The Serbian administration
will be more efficient, Serbian citizens will have access to better
public services, better education for their children and better
healthcare. The economy will grow as a confident business sector
thrives in a more stable environment, where the rules are
transparent and there is no room for corruption.
Serbian parliament has a key role to play
Ladies and gentlemen,
Member States are currently assessing Serbia's
state of preparedness in all areas covered by the EU acquis. In all
those areas, I know we can count on Serbia and the Serbian
government to make sustainable progress across all areas.
The Serbian parliament is also a key actor in this
process. This is the place where consensus on the major issues of
European integration needs to be reached and built upon. Here I must
stress the importance of ensuring a cross-party and nationwide
consensus on the next steps in the EU integration process. This will
ensure lasting reforms.
This parliament is the institution which also
ensures a high level of alignment with the European Union acquis.
I know that an impressive number of legislative
drafts have been submitted to you over the last year, and more are
on the way! It will be important to allow enough time for all the
preparatory steps, in particular consultations with stakeholders,
international partners and of course the Commission. This House is
the forum where reforms should be discussed, challenged, debated and
In that regard, urgent procedures should only be
used for real emergencies and fully justified exceptions. This is
essential for ensuring respect for the Rule of Law and the overall
inclusiveness of the accession process.
The Serbian parliament should also play a lead
role in the oversight of the executive and monitor effective
implementation of reforms on the ground, in close cooperation with
independent regulatory bodies.
You have also a role to explaining to the wider
public. The European integration process is already becoming an
increasingly concrete experience for all in Serbia. This is not only
true for the administration, civil society, business people,
students and researchers. It is also true for society at large, for
all citizens of Serbia, as these reforms touch upon a large variety
of sectors and influence many aspects of daily life.
Another issue that is of utmost importance is
regional cooperation and good neighbourly relations and here I would
like to acknowledge Serbia's constructive commitment. The
enlargement process for the region should be an anchor for building
stability. We simply cannot afford any backsliding either in terms
of reforms being slowed down or regional ties being loosened or even
That brings me to a vital element of regional
cooperation: the connectivity agenda.
Building and connecting transport and energy
infrastructure is at the very heart of our efforts. The Vienna
summit and the overall Berlin process have created a positive
momentum and helped the countries in the region to achieve
substantial progress. The commitments made by Serbia and the other
countries at the summit now need to be fully implemented.
Not just the infrastructure investments, but also
the supporting measures that will unlock their full potential, such
as smoother border crossing procedures, interoperability,
The EU is Serbia's main partner in facing
Serbia is also an important foreign policy partner
for the EU.
We have all been impressed by the responsible
handling of Serbia's Chairmanship in Office of the OSCE during 2015
and the successful handling of last week's Ministerial in Belgrade.
Ladies and gentlemen,
We have built a Union of 28 Member States that has
achieved an unprecedented degree of economic and political
A Union that is, first and foremost, a place where
peace and stability prevail and war has become unthinkable. A Union
founded on the shared values of democracy, fundamental rights and
the rule of law.
But stability, be it political, economic or
financial, is a fragile concept. We have suffered the worst
financial and economic crisis since World War II.
Our neighbourhood - from Ukraine to Syria, the
Middle East and North Africa - remains unstable. Numerous challenges
lie ahead of us ranging from terrorism and migration to energy
shortfalls. In an increasingly interdependent world, these
challenges are not exclusive to Europe. These are global challenges
that we need to address together as a Union and together with
Because a European Serbia is part of our common
vision. There should be no doubt about it.
The whole European Union, that is, its
institutions and the 28 Member States, firmly stand by Serbia's
The EU is Serbia's biggest provider of
This is why we "invest" substantially in Serbia.
The European Union is Serbia´s biggest provider of assistance, with
about 200 million euros each year in grants, without counting the
unprecedented 170 million euros provided in the aftermath of last
year´s dramatic floods of which I still have very strong memories.
We have also provided immediate funding and humanitarian aid to
support Serbia in dealing with the afflux of refugees and we are
working closely with the Serbian authorities on further medium to
long term assistance.
The European Union is also Serbia's top partner in
terms of trade, investment, and favourable loans. We also "invest"
in Serbia's youth. More than 1600 Serbian students will have
benefitted from the Erasmus programme in 2015.
I hope that this number will continue to grow in
the years to come, because today's younger generation will shape
A lot of work lies ahead of us. But I am confident
that together, as partners and friends, we will handle the next
steps smoothly and soon open a new chapter of our common history to
bring Serbia where it belongs: into the European family.