Sunday

19th Nov 2017

Mogherini backs Western Balkan enlargement

  • Mogherini (third from left) made a good impression on MEPs (Photo: europarl.europa.eu)

Italian foreign minister and incoming EU foreign relations chief Federica Mogherini has called for progress on Western Balkan enlargement, while saying Russia is no longer an EU “strategic partner”.

Mogherini spoke to MEPs on Tuesday (2 September) on behalf of the Italian EU presidency.

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“Because we [Italy] are very convinced of the strategic relevance of the enlargement process, during the first month of the [Italian] presidency I visited all the capital cities in the Western Balkans”, she said.

“We believe that going on consistently with the enlargement process is not only in the interests of those countries … but also in the interest of European stability, security, and economic prosperity”.

She singled out Albania as making the most progress and said Italy is looking to chair an Albania-Serbia meeting on better Serb relations with Kosovo.

But she said Bosnia needs “profound reform” and there is no question of “artificially accelerating” EU ties.

She admitted she has no idea how to solve the Macedonia-Greece name dispute, saying: “If I had the answer to that, I would maybe win the Nobel prize”.

She also avoided questions on Turkey’s crackdown on civil liberties, saying only that EU accession talks can help “reinforce” Turkish reforms.

Mogherini’s remarks are a counterpoint to recent statements by Jean-Claude Juncker, the incoming European Commission chief, who said there will be no new EU states in his five-year term.

They also come amid talk that the commission's enlargement bureau might be folded into the European External Action Service, which Mogherini is to take over in November.

Turning to Russia, the Italian FM said she regrets that Italy described Russia as a “strategic” partner for resolving “regional challenges” in its presidency programme in July.

“The strategic partnership is now over. Clearly that’s over. And that was the choice of Moscow first of all … I don’t know if that answers the question if I am pro-Russian or anti-Russian”.

She added the commission will propose a new package of EU sanctions on Russia on Wednesday, with a view to adoption by EU states on Friday.

But she also said that South Stream, a Russian gas pipeline project involving Italian firms, could “contribute to ... [EU energy] diversification”, despite the fact it would increase EU energy dependence on Russia.

Mogherini went on to review problems in the southern neighbourhood.

She said the EU must protect Jordan from the Islamic State and floated the prospect of an EU-sponsored “regional dialogue”, involving Egypt, on how to tackle the jihadist force.

She added that Kurdish independence “is not a good idea” amid plans for a referendum which might split Iraq in two.

Mogherini’s visit to the European Parliament foreshadows upcoming hearings in which MEPs will quiz Juncker’s new team to see if they are fit for purpose.

Deputies from the left and right tweeted praise of her performance, while, in some cases, criticising her predecessor Catherine Ashton.

“Positively surprising. Much better prepared, engaged and not afraid to state her views. A real improvement [on Ashton]!”, centre-left Portuguese deputy Ana Gomes said.

“Very fluent in English/well briefed but … needs to sound tougher on Russian aggression”, British centre-right member Charles Tannock noted.

British Green Alyn Smith said Mogherini gave a "polished, impressive presentation”. But Dutch Liberal Marietje Schaake complained that she “steered away from critical questions on Turkey".

Bulgaria calls for West Balkan EU integration after Brexit

The UK leaving the EU gives an opportunity to bring the Western Balkans closer, Bulgaria's PM said in Brussels. Bulgaria will hold the upcoming rotating presidency, while Juncker said Serbia and Montenegro will be EU members by 2025.

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