BCSDN welcomes the Resolution on the implementation of the EU’s common foreign and security policy (CFSP), drafted by the Committee on Foreign Affairs and adopted by the European Parliament on 18 January 2023. The Resolution, based on the annual report on the CFSP implementation, discusses the significant changes in the geopolitical context prompted by the war in Ukraine and the EU’s changing approach to its external policy and action. The EP highlighted that the military aggression by the Russian Federation against Ukraine is posing an immediate threat to European and global security, including threats to the stability in the Western Balkans. With the possibility of the aggression spilling over into the wider region, the Resolution states that the Western Balkans are “in need of peaceful conflict resolution, improved stability and security, and increased mutual cooperation.”
Presenting the developments as a “wake-up call for the EU”, the EP notes it is speeding the momentum toward geopolitical redefinition of the CFSP into a fully-fledged European policy. As the CFSP is guided by the values of democracy, the rule of law, the universality and indivisibility of human rights and fundamental freedoms, the EP highlights that “autocratic pressure on these democratic values continues to mount, eroding checks on abuse of power, increasing the incidence and severity of human rights violations and constricting space for civil society, independent media and democratic opposition movements.” Yet, the EP also notes the deterioration of the human rights and rule of law situation in a number of its own Member States, seeing it as a blow to its own credibility and a reminder that its rhetoric and actions must be consistent and exemplary in strictly upholding human rights.
This is also mentioned in relation to the WB accession, as the EP notes that the necessity for EU internal reforms should not be a pretext for slowing the merit-based accession process, and that the widening and deepening of the Union must go hand-in-hand. In fact, the EP states that the Russian invasion of Ukraine has prompted the EU to reprioritize its enlargement policy and consolidate the enlargement process. The EP calls on the Member States to renew their commitment to enlargement by delivering on the EU’s commitments to the Western Balkan countries, such as immediately lifting visa requirements for citizens of Kosovo. The resolution aims to reaffirm that the future of the peoples of the Western Balkans lies within the EU, and that the enlargement is “more than ever a geostrategic investment in a stable, strong and united EU.”
In that context, the EP welcomes the granting of candidate status to Bosnia and Herzegovina, the application for EU membership by the Republic of Kosovo, and the start of accession negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia. On the other hand, it denounces the ongoing secessionist rhetoric and activity in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the continuous pattern of escalatory actions by Serbia and Serbian-sponsored actors in Kosovo, emphasizing the urgent need for intensifying the EU-led Prishtina-Belgrade dialogue process. The EP stresses that the revived Enlargement should allow for accelerated integration of accession countries that demonstrate strategic orientation towards the EU, commitment to EU-related reforms, and foreign policy alignment. To that end, the EP expresses its regrets on Serbia’s continued low level of alignment with the CFSP, notably with regard to the Russian Federation’s war of aggression against Ukraine, and reiterates that demonstrating full alignment with the CFSP is mandatory for opening further negotiating chapters. The similar is said for Türkiye, in addition to the note that the serious deterioration of democracy, the rule of law, and fundamental rights keeps blocking the resumption of the negotiations.
When referring to civil society, the EP mainly focuses on specific countries across the globe, such as Türkiye, Taiwan, Myanmar, Afghanistan, and Moldova, where it highlights the commitment to working closely with independent civil society in addressing the countries’ political and social issues. The EP makes more general notes on the need to increase the support to and cooperation with CSOs, activists, and journalists in the fight against corruption, the protection of media freedom and freedom of expression, but also in mainstreaming culture as a strategic pillar across the Union’s external action, actively involving and supporting civil society in third countries in fostering “international cultural relations based on cultural cooperation and co-creation”. It also notes that new digital technologies pose threats to human rights defenders and others because they can be used for controlling, restricting, and undermining their activities. Finally, the EP insists that the EU’s foreign and security policy must be reformed towards regional security cooperation, global climate and environmental action, strengthening both political and social human rights, and ensuring the implementation of the goals of the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
BCSDN welcomes the awareness of the EP about the constricting space for civil society in many countries with autocratic tendencies, and the remarks to support and work with independent civil society in the highlighted cases. However, the Resolution lacks recognition of the overall role and value of civil society in the promotion of democracy and EU values globally. In the Western Balkans, civil society has proven indispensable in the countries’ reform processes and in safeguarding democracy. The EP should show stronger recognition of civil society’s role and express further support for enabling its work and contribution to peaceful, democratic societies, in line with EU’s external policy and action.