Direct message from Europe: Serbia must decide
Serbia must decide whose side it wants to be on, said the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen.Source: Tanjug
"We want Serbia with us, but for that we need clear evidence that the country shares our values, such as the rule of law and democracy, and that it rejects the Russian invasion," Von der Leyen said in an interview with the Austrian daily Wiener Zeitung and Kleine Zeitung.
She underlined that the foreign policy commitment of the candidates is very important.
"Of course, we expect everyone to pull the same side of the rope," the EC President underlined.
Asked how much the Western Balkans are connected with the status of Ukraine, and what can be offered to those countries, she pointed out that almost all the countries of the Western Balkans are on the European path away from Ukraine.
"I hope that we will find a solution, that we will finally be able to fulfill our promise and start accession negotiations. Bosnia-Herzegovina, for example, can enter accession negotiations immediately when it meets 14 main points. There has been a lot of progress and that should be acknowledged," she said.
Asked how long it will take for Ukraine to become a member of the EU, Von der Leyen pointed out that the accession process is linked to progress. "It is in the hands of the candidates how fast they are moving in the process," she said, noting that Slovakia and Turkey were granted candidate status in 1999, that Slovakia had done everything possible to implement the necessary reforms, and became a member five years later, while Turkey is more distant from membership than it has ever been."
Von der Leyen said that she got the impression that the Ukrainian authorities are highly motivated and the citizens are united around the desire to join the EU.
"They want to implement the necessary reforms as soon as possible. President Volodymyr Zelensky told me that they would do it even if there was no talk of membership, because it is good for the country and democracy. That is one of the reasons why we recommended the Council of the EU to grant candidate status", the President of the EC pointed out.
Noting that many are of the opinion that the EU cannot overcome the admission of such a large, poor country without reforms, she said that the Union must define what preconditions it wants to create for potential new rounds of enlargement, adding that there is, for example, unanimity.
Asked what if the governments do not agree on the candidate status for Ukraine, Von der Leyen expressed confidence that there will be positive decisions.
Asked about the Austrian proposal for the reform of the accession process, she reminded that the process was reformed only two years ago.
"Our proposal was accepted by the parliament and the Council. That process has been modernized and strengthened. Now we have the opportunity to progress faster through the unification of procedures, or vice versa, if we recognize a setback, to request processing," she said.
Asked how far the EU is from the seventh package of sanctions against Russia, Von der Leyen pointed out that the Union was extremely united and successful around the first six packages, which cost something to Europe itself, but cost Russia more.
"For example, the financial sector. Russia's central bank must pay dearly to maintain the stability of the ruble. In the economy, we have learned a lot in export control. Missing parts are becoming a problem in all areas, Russian planes cannot land almost anywhere outside the country, because certificates are missing. Parts are also missing in the railway traffic, components are missing in the automotive industry. Now we have to see that there are no holes," she explained.
When it comes to energy, she said that the EU has plans for emergency situations for the winter, which it has been working on since the beginning of the war in Ukraine.
"Currently, our gas storage is filled to 43 percent, and we want it to be 80 percent by winter," she explained. She pointed out that the goal is to end the dependence on Russian gas, which is part of the agreement with U.S. President Joe Biden, but also the agreement with Israel, Egypt, Norway and Azerbaijan.
When asked whether the gas embargo is on the table as a further sanction against Russia, Von der Layen avoided a direct answer.
"We are on our way to becoming independent of Russia. Total gas consumption in the EU fell by nine percent in the first quarter. People understand how important it is and how much it is related to high prices. Russian deliveries are reduced for 30 percent," the EC President said.