"We gather here today not only to exchange ideas but to improve parliamentary oversight" of the EU accession process, said Parliament President Jerzy Buzek at the opening session of the Joint Parliamentary Assembly on the Western Balkans. The event brings together MEPs with Members of national parliaments to debate the European integration process of the Western Balkans.
"The European Parliament is strongly committed to the European perspective of the Western Balkans," said President Buzek. He referred to the success of the Union in overcoming national animosities in the past, noting that "Franco-German reconciliation happened here. German-Polish reconciliation happened here. We should keep this in mind" when talking about the power of European integration.
László Kövér, the Speaker of the Hungarian Parliament, and co-chair of the Joint Parliamentary Assembly (JPM), also highlighted the fact that "national parliaments, the European Parliament and such JPMs are an integral part of the EU's democratic functioning." "The protection of native cultures, the peaceful coexistence of peoples and nations: this is what gives Europe its strength," he added.
Voices from the region
After the introduction, two speakers kicked off the debate in the chamber. Luka Bebic, Speaker of the Croatian Parliament mentioned that the "Croatian example emphasizes the clear European orientation of the Western Balkans as a region." He underlined that "regional cooperation will remain one of the priorities of Croatian foreign policy," and expressed his hope that accession negotiations between his country and the EU could be finalized by June of this year.
Sonja Biserko, Head of the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia painted a darker picture of the Western Balkans. "The states in the region are fragile and strained by ethnic tensions, the transitions, both economic and political, are moving too slowly," she said. "The Western Balkans has not lived up to its potential," she added, for which she blamed corruption and the political elite. Many countries "lack the political will and the political culture to enact the necessary reforms" and, therefore, she argued for a new EU approach to the region as a whole.