A delegation of the European Integration Committee took part in the 62nd Plenary Meeting of the Conference of Parliamentary Committees for Union Affairs of Parliaments of the European Union (COSAC), held under the auspices of the parliamentary dimension of the Finnish Presidency of the Council of the European Union, on 1-3 December 2019 in Helsinki.
The delegation comprised European Integration Committee Deputy Chairperson Elvira Kovacs and substitute member Vladimir Djuric.
The meeting was opened by Finnish Parliament Speaker Matti Vahanen and member of the Finnish Parliament’s Grand Committee Kimmo Kiljunen who emphasized the importance of national parliaments and called upon everyone to employ the principle of solidarity, cornerstone of European values, in the resolution of common problems at the level of the EU. The attending were also addressed by Prime Minister of Finland Antti Rinne who presented the priorities of the Finnish Presidency: strengthen common values and the rule of law, make the EU more competitive and socially inclusive, strengthen the EU's position as a global leader in climate action and protect the security of citizens comprehensively.
Speaking at Session I: The Finnish Presidency of the EU Council, the head of the delegation Elvira Kovacs said that it was “extremely important to view the key aspects of the further development of cooperation in light of new the events and challenges in Europe and beyond, as well as the development opportunities before us. We have to keep in mind that stability and cooperation are confirmed through one of EU’s most successful policies – the enlargement policy.” She said that the Republic of Serbia is deeply committed to EU accession, fully aware and respectful of the differences and problems the European Union is faced with. Kovacs said that Serbia has so far opened 17 negotiation chapters and expects to open at least two more at the Intergovernmental Conference by the end of the year. That would be a step forward in this sensitive moment when the opening of negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania was not met with a positive decision. The policy of encouragement and consolidation of views within the EU as regards the acceptance of new members has to be achieved so that the countries could speed up their reform on the path to EU, Elvira Kovacs concluded.
Speaking at Session II: Promoting the Rule of Law in the EU and the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, Elvira Kovacs said that the Republic of Serbia is committed to respecting fundamental human rights and freedoms and has in the previous period conducted significant reforms in the domain of rule of law. The last European Commission Report on Serbia’s progress in chapters 23 and 24 (non-paper) concerning the rule of laws was presented to the member states at COELA on 15 November. Legislative and institutional reform yielded visible results in a number of areas, including national minorities, prevention of money laundering and human trafficking, asylum, combating corruption and organized crime. The very important Law on Free Legal Aid was also passed. As regards Chapter 24, Serbia continues with its efforts in the spheres of migration and border management.
At Session II, delegation member Vladimir Djuric stressed that the rule of law and democracy are basic European values which the citizens of all the European states are entitled to and are as such more precious than any short-term political goal. Too often we see compromises, especially in terms of democracy and freedom of the media, for the sake of short-term political goals in the region. This undermines the credibility of the European Union, spreads unwelcome Euroscepticism and presses the questions of what is important – the rule of law or regional stability? Which of the two should be the fundamental goal of the region? Can these two goals even be separated? Can flaws of democracy be forgiven for the benefit of promised regional agenda which do not really contribute to sustainable long-term stability? One thing is sure – there can be no long-term stability without democracy, Vladimir Djuric concluded.
On day two of the plenary, speaking about a climate strategy for Europe, Vladimir Djuric said that politicians who deal with environmental protection in the candidate states are treated as if they were not competent enough to tackle important national issues, which only goes to show that environmental policy needs to be promoted more. Luckily, the citizens are today much more aware of the air quality index and see no quality in it. Environmental protection adds weight to the enlargement process because polluted air knows no borders and needs no visas. According to recent information, six thermal power plants in the Western Balkans are creating the highest pollution zone in Europe. Some studies show that introducing quotas for excessive emission in the candidate states would lead to an overwhelming rise in power prices. The Republic of Serbia invested as much as it could in the last few years but its energy sector still needs additional investments of 250 million EUR annually which still would not de-carbonize the energy sector. That is why the countries of the Western Balkans need to be an important part of the “green deal”, otherwise it will be neither good nor bad, Vladimir Djuric concluded.
On the margins of the COSAC plenary, the delegation of the European Integration Committee had a series of bilateral meetings resulting in concrete initiatives for the improvement parliamentary cooperation in terms of European integration.
The next meeting of the chairpersons of COSAC will be held on 18 and 19 January 2020, while the next plenary is scheduled for 25 and 26 May 2020 in Zagreb. Both meetings will be organized by the Croatian Presidency of the EU Council, which will be formally handed over on 1 January 2020.