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Statement of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic on the European Commission’s annual enlargement reports

 

The Czech Republic welcomes the Communication of the European Commission on EU Enlargement Policy and the related country reports. Apart from evaluating the enlargement policy and the progress made by the enlargement countries, these documents also represent an important impetus for further execution of this successful EU policy.

The Czech Republic takes note of the fact that the next Enlargement Package will not be published before spring 2018 and will, therefore, through talks with the European Commission and the Member States, look for a way to bridge the period between autumn 2016 and spring 2018 thus ensuring interim evaluation of the progress made by the enlargement countries and enabling corresponding decisions of the Council of the EU.

The EU enlargement is a long-term priority of Czech foreign policy. The Czech Republic strongly supported this policy during its Presidency of the Visegrád Group and it endeavoured to find possibilities for deepening the cooperation between the V4 and the Western Balkan countries. The Czech Republic continues in these efforts also during the current Polish Presidency of the V4 with the support of the Slovak Presidency of the Council of the EU with whom the Czech Republic cooperates on these issues.

We see the contents of this year’s Enlargement Package as a confirmation of the importance of the EU enlargement process as a means of strengthening the stability, democracy and economic development in the enlargement countries. We also see it as further proof that EU enlargement has a firm place among the EU’s policies even during the ongoing discussion on the future of the Union. The Czech Republic is ready to continue to actively contribute to the success of this policy.

The Czech Republic supports the Commission’s stance that a clear perspective of EU membership represents an important engine of political and economic transformation and modernisation for all enlargement countries.

The Czech Republic highly appreciates the progress achieved in the execution of reforms in the enlargement countries. There is, however, still much work ahead, especially with regard to the rule of law and economic governance. The Czech Republic supports the Commission in its focus on these key areas and shares its view that support for further enlargement on the side of citizens of the EU Member States is directly proportional to the preparedness of the enlargement countries for membership.

Regional cooperation of the Western Balkan countries and strengthening of good neighbourly relations constitute an indispensable element of the process of European integration of these countries. The Czech Republic, therefore, supports all initiatives that strengthen such cooperation.

The Czech Republic shares the Commission’s commendation to Turkey, Serbia and Macedonia for their constructive role in handling the migration and refugee crisis. We see their contribution as further proof of the importance of the region for the stability and security of the whole European Union.

Turkey remains a key partner of the EU. The Czech Republic supports the continuation of the accession talks with Turkey, as part of which two chapters were opened during the previous year. The Czech Republic welcomes the existing good cooperation between EU and Turkey on handling the migration and refugee crisis, as well as the progress made by Turkey in fulfilling the conditions for visa liberalisation. The EU and Turkey held several rounds of high-level dialogue on politics, economy and energy, as well as continued to cooperate in the fight against terrorism. In July the Czech Republic as well as the whole EU condemned the failed military coup, which constituted a direct attack on democratic principles, and we gave our support to the democratically elected representatives. The Czech Republic supports the Commission’s call on Turkey to respect fundamental human rights and the rule of law, including freedom of expression and the right to a fair trial, even in this critical time. The Czech Republic and the Commission remind Turkey that a reintroduction of the death penalty would be contrary to the EU’s fundamental values and principles, as well as to Turkey’s other international obligations.

The Czech Republic welcomes that Montenegro has maintained a favourable pace in the accession negotiations. We trust that in order for this trend to continue, the Montenegrin government will further intensify the implementation of reforms, especially in the area of the rule of law and strengthening of administrative capacity. At the same time, we believe that in the economic sphere – in accordance with the recommendations of the European Commission – the Montenegrin government will carry out further steps to strengthen its institutions, to create a functioning market economy and to stabilise its fiscal policy.

The Czech Republic commends Serbias government for continuing reforms in a good pace and for the results achieved. Progress in the area of the rule of law and in efforts to normalise relations with Kosovo, confirmed by mutual agreements, enabled the opening of the first negotiation chapters. The Czech Republic supports a speedy opening of further chapters and an increase in the pace of accession negotiations. The Czech Republic also appreciates the constructive role that Serbia plays in regional cooperation in the Western Balkans.

The Czech Republic regrets that the year 2016 has been marked by the continuing political crisis in Macedonia. For ending the crisis it is crucial to fully implement the Pržino Agreement, and in particular the commitments to hold credible parliamentary elections, enable the work of the Special Prosecutor responsible for investigating the criminal acts uncovered by the publication of wiretap recordings of state officials, and make progress in the implementation of the Urgent Reform Priorities. As soon as the political crisis in Macedonia is solved and the European Commission extends the recommendation to start accession talks, the Czech Republic will back a corresponding decision by the European Council. Unblocking Macedonia’s accession process is essential for ensuring the long-term stability of the country and the implementation of necessary reforms as well as for maintaining the credibility of the EU enlargement policy.

The Czech Republic welcomes the European Commission’s recommendation to launch accession negotiations with Albania. The recommendation represents clear recognition of the progress the country has made in implementing key reforms in the past couple of years. The Czech Republic supports Albania in moving to the next stage of the EU integration process and will insist on the start of accession talks as soon as the country meets the remaining requirements of the European Commission in the field of justice reform.

The Czech Republic welcomes the fact that in February 2016 Bosnia and Herzegovina submitted its EU membership application and that in September 2016 the Council of the EU asked the European Commission to prepare an opinion on the application. The Czech Republic expects the European Commission to deliver the questionnaire that will serve as a basis for the preparation of the opinion to Bosnia and Herzegovina by the end of 2016. For the successful continuation of the EU integration process, it will be essential for Bosnia and Herzegovina to proceed in implementing structural reforms that will increase the functionality of state institutions and foster the country’s economic development. The Czech Republic is of the view that the field of education, including the elimination of ethnic segregation and discrimination from schools, should have an important place in the reform process in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Reconciliation also needs to be supported.

The entry of the Stabilization and Association Agreement between the EU and Kosovo into force in April 2016 was good news. The Czech Republic also welcomed the European Commission’s proposal to lift the visa regime for the citizens of Kosovo presented in May 2016 and believes that Kosovo will soon meet the last condition for the visa liberalization to come into effect. The upcoming conclusion of the agreement on Kosovo’s participation in EU programs is important as well. The Czech Republic strongly backs the process of normalizing relations between Kosovo and Serbia which is a condition for the progress of both countries in the EU integration process. For the successful continuation of both processes and implementation of reforms, it is crucial to overcome the disputes between the Kosovo government and opposition.

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