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Motion for a resolution the implementation of the Association Agreements / Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreements with Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine – B8-2016-0077

The European Parliament,

–  having regard to the Association Agreements of 27 June 2014 between the European Union and the European Atomic Energy Community and their Member States, of the one part, and Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine, of the other part, together with the accompanying Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreements,

–  having regard to the ratification of these agreements by the European Parliament in September (Ukraine), November (Moldova) and December 2014 (Georgia), and to the accompanying resolutions adopted then by the European Parliament,

–  having regard to its report on the review of the European Neighbourhood Policy, adopted in June 2015, and to its relevant resolutions concerning the political situation in the three countries,

–  having regard to the Association Agendas for 2014-2016 which have succeeded the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) action plan for the three countries,

–  having regard to the progress reports on Georgia’s and Ukraine’s implementation of the action plan on visa liberalisation of 18 December 2015,

–  having regard to Rule 123(2) of its Rules of Procedure,

A.  whereas the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) and the Eastern Partnership were set up and designed to promote peace, stability and prosperity in Europe through support for democracy, the rule of law and sustainable economic development; whereas the ENP and the EU’s engagement and partnership with the Eastern Neighbours were never designed to be a geopolitical challenge against any other country;

B.  whereas the Association Agreements have now been in force for over one year along with the trade agreements with Georgia and Moldova; whereas the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA) between Ukraine and the EU came fully into force on 1 January 2016; whereas the creation of Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Areas (DCFTA) between the EU and Georgia, the EU and Moldova and the EU and Ukraine represents one of the most significant mutual benefits of the agreements, as the importance of trade for growth, job creation, prosperity and stability is indisputable;

C.  whereas visa-free travel was introduced between EU and Moldova in April 2014, and whereas the latest reports by the Commission in December 2015 indicate that Georgia and Ukraine now meet the requirements set in the visa liberalisation action plans;

D.  whereas the EU’s engagement with the Eastern partners has been met with resistance from the Russian Federation, which seems to regard the EU’s outreach only in terms of geopolitical competition, in a zero-sum context;

E.  whereas Russia remains involved, directly or indirectly, in conflicts and internal divisions touching all the three association countries – the Abkhazia and South Ossetia conflicts in Georgia, the Transnistria issue in Moldova and the Russian annexation of Crimea and involvement in the conflict in the eastern parts of Ukraine; whereas these conflicts undermine the territorial integrity of the partner countries, are in breach of international law and weaken the overall security situation in the continent of Europe;

F.  whereas the European Union and its Member States have adopted a series of sanctions and restrictive measures against the Russian Federation and Russian officials, notably as a consequence of the Russian annexation of Crimea and Russia’s direct involvement in the conflict in the eastern part of Ukraine;

G.  whereas the association countries are making measurable progress in many fields while at the same time facing internal political pressure from political, social and economic reforms and from a still developing democratic culture, as well as external pressure;

H.  whereas democratic institutions are still weak in the three association countries; whereas the presence of economic interests in some of the political parties, and hence in the governments and the designation of their cabinets, decisively affects the democratic configuration of the countries;

I.  whereas the conclusion of the Association Agreements is not an end in and of itself, but part of a broader process to seek closer cooperation with the association countries closer to the EU, in terms of legal, economic, political and social reforms and convergence; whereas, to this end, implementation is essential; whereas this process is based on the common values of the European Union and the associate countries, which are all members of the Council of Europe;

1.  Welcomes the progress achieved in the implementation of the Association Agreements and the positive impact the Free Trade Agreements have had in terms of increased trade and business contacts, reform incentives and contributing to economic growth, and reiterates the readiness of the EU to make further efforts in order to sustain the positive results of reforms undertaken, to monitor closely the impact of the Free Trade Agreements and to minimise any possible negative impact of the new free trade regime in place;

2.  Underlines the fact that the association countries have freely chosen contractual engagement with the European Union and that their choice must be fully respected; reiterates that the ENP and the Eastern Partnership are not a geopolitical challenge against any third party, but a long-term policy in favour of stability, prosperity and democracy in the continent of Europe based on respect for human rights, good governance, the rule of law, and a market economy;

3.  Stresses that the Council of the European Union unanimously signed the Association Agreements;

4.  Welcomes the positive evaluation by the Commission as regards visa liberalisation for Ukraine and Georgia in the latest assessment of the implementation of the visa liberalisation action plans with the two countries; expects the Council and the Member States to proceed to grant the two countries a visa-free travel regime without undue delay;

5.  Takes note of the decision of 21 December 2015 by the Council to extend the economic sanctions against Russia, as the Minsk agreement has not yet been fully implemented; underlines that full implementation of the Minsk agreement remains central to the stabilisation of the eastern part of Ukraine and that EU sanctions will remain in place until Russia has delivered on its part of the agreement; recalls that sanctions are not a goal in themselves, and expresses the hope that the Russian Federation will soon respect international law, whereupon the EU will be able to lift its sanctions;

6.  Emphasises that the conflicts in the Eastern Neighbourhood need further political attention from the European Union and from all the multilateral security organisations in Europe, in particular the OSCE and the German OSCE Presidency; calls on the EEAS, the Council and the Member States to take a more proactive stance and to use all the diplomatic and political mechanisms set up to deal with these conflicts; points out that if a specific diplomatic resolution mechanism fails to deliver any results despite years of efforts, new formats should be envisaged; recalls that the EU can act most strongly on the global stage when it is united;

7.  Calls on the Commission and the EEAS to develop, together with the association countries, confidence-building measures which could ease tension over separation lines and alleviate the suffering of people in these conflicts; in this context, stresses the importance of the continuous work done by the EU CSDP missions – the European Union Border Assistance Mission (EUBAM) to Moldova and Ukraine and the European Union Monitoring Mission (EUMM) in Georgia;

8.  Reiterates its support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all the countries in the Eastern Neighbourhood, including for the three association countries, and underlines that the agreements, including the free trade provisions, should be implemented in a way which facilitates the resolution of territorial conflicts;

9.  Stresses that by approximating EU legislation in areas such as competition, government procurement, and protection of intellectual property rights, the DCFTA will contribute to the modernisation and diversification of these economies, and thus provide an impetus for reform and the fight against corruption; improvements in the area of food safety will enable the countries to become eligible to export animal-origin products to the EU; notes that the approximation of sanitary and phytosanitary standards (SPS) and technical regulations and standards to EU requirements should lead to positive growth effects in agriculture and the food processing sector;

10.  Underlines the need for the judiciary to be absolutely independent in Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova;

11.  Underlines also the need for real freedom of the press; expresses its concern regarding all the cases in which freedom of expression and the press are at stake;

12.  Believes that parliamentary scrutiny is a fundamental condition for democratic support for EU policies; calls on the Commission, therefore, to facilitate regular and detailed monitoring of the implementation of the DCFTA by the European Parliament in a timely manner; calls on the Commission to monitor closely the implementation of the DCFTAs in order to prevent social and environmental dumping, especially during the transition period for some sectors; stresses the importance of parliamentary diplomacy and points, in this connection, to the clear need for reform of the Euronest Parliamentary Assembly;

13.  Encourages the three association countries to make further efforts in the following areas:

as regards Georgia:

i.  notes the change of Prime Minister in Georgia in December 2015 and welcomes the statements in favour of cooperation with the parliamentary opposition as a way to ease the tense political polarisation in the country; considers, however, that business and politics should not be interlinked when ruling a democratic country;

ii.  welcomes recent reforms by the Georgian authorities to further strengthen the stability, independence and effectiveness of state institutions, in particular the judicial institutions, and the efforts to consolidate the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms; considers, nevertheless, that these reforms are insufficient in scope and fall short of addressing the challenges facing the judicial institutions, particularly the issue of independence and institutional integrity against undue political influence; more specifically, calls for the establishment of transparent, merit-based selection of judges and for a change in the 3-year term of probation system for judges;

iii.  stresses that prosecutions must be transparent, evidence-based, proportionate and free from political motivation, and should adhere strictly to investigatory procedures and due process and be conducted in full respect of the principles of a fair trial, as enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights; remains concerned about the lack of accountability of the Prosecutor’s Office and the blurred criteria according to which prosecutors and investigators are appointed; calls for continued efforts for full independence, efficiency, impartiality and professionalism in the judiciary, the Prosecutor’s Office and the Ministry of the Interior, as well as in the newly established Security Service, and asks for the promotion of political will to create the mechanisms for their accountability;

iv.  welcomes the changes in the Labour Code in Georgia; stresses, however, that health and safety legislation regarding labour rights must still be at the top of the agenda;

v.  reiterates its concern over the fate of the children placed in residential religious institutions without state oversight, stresses the responsibility of the government under international human rights law to protect all children from violence, and calls for measures to ensure effective investigation and rehabilitation for children affected by ill-treatment and/or sexual abuse;

vi.  calls for a clear, transparent and human-rights-based policy, and mechanisms for investigating, prosecuting and compensating human rights violations, and for it to be ensured that this process fully respects the principle of the rule of law and due process;

vii.  stresses the need for an improved political culture and a climate of national reconciliation; considers that the detentions and imprisonment of officials who served under previous governments and members of the current opposition could be seen as signs of selective justice; expresses concern about the potential use of the judicial system to fight against political opponents, which could undermine Georgia’s European course and the efforts of the Georgian authorities in the area of democratic reform; calls on all political forces to avoid this type of instrumentalisation, while pursuing a serious fight to rule out corruption and misuse of public office;

viii.  calls on the Georgian Government, especially in view of the 2016 parliamentary elections, to create a favourable environment for free media which promotes freedom of expression and media pluralism, and to allow the media to report independently and objectively without political or economic pressure; expresses its concern over the recent attempts to change the ownership and editorial policy of Georgia’s most popular independent TV channel, Rustavi 2, and as well as over freedom of media in the country; calls, in this regard, for full implementation of the law on transparency of media ownership, and reiterates that any court ruling should not undermine the independence of the media’s editorial policy;

ix.  calls on the Georgian Government to initiate a reform of electoral law in order to ensure better proportional and pluralistic representation, in line with international and European requirements and the ruling of the Georgian Constitutional Court;

x.  condemns efforts to erect memorials and statutes of Joseph Stalin, and calls on the Georgian authorities to distance themselves from such activities and to show due respect for the memory of millions of victims of Stalinism;

xi.  stresses that, according to the Georgian Statistical Office (Geostat), the first 12 months of DCFTA implementation indicate an increase in EU imports from Georgia of 15 %, whereas EU exports to Georgia declined slightly, by 6.2 %; calls for accession of Georgia to the Energy Community Treaty in order to ensure full compliance with Chapter 11 of the DCFTA;

xii.  stresses the need to accelerate the implementation of food safety regulations on the ground and improve inter-agency cooperation in Georgia in order to deliver the desired DCFTA results;

xiii.  calls on the Georgian Government to ensure that civil society is properly involved in the reform processes;

as regards Moldova:

i.  regrets that the Parliament of Moldova and the political parties represented therein have not yet succeeded in forming a new government since the vote of no confidence on 29 October 2015 led to the resignation of the government of Prime Minister Valeriu Streleț; considers that the current political impasse in Moldova has reached a critical point that risks destabilising the country’s institutions and endangering the economy, the political legitimacy of all the political parties and the fight against corruption, which has a heavy impact on the inflow of foreign direct investment (FDI);

ii.  calls on all the political parties of Moldova to engage seriously in negotiations to find a majority to form a government that can proceed with the implementation of the necessary reforms, in particular a stabilisation of the economy in compliance with the demands of the World Bank and the IMF to ensure investments and public procurement;

iii.  emphasises that Moldindconbank, Moldova Agroindbank and Victoria Bank should be undergoing diagnostic audits, and that any problems revealed should be dealt with immediately; notes that the supervision of the banking sector remains insufficient; emphasises that it is businesses that bear the cost of the financial crisis through more difficult access to loans;

iv.  stresses that after one year of DCFTA implementation, Moldova’s total exports decreased by 14.8 %, whereas, however, trade with the EU was the most stable, with exports down by only 1.4 %, while exports to CIS and other partners decreased more significantly; points in particular to the case of agri-food goods, for which expectations were high and where many opponents claimed that Moldova was not competitive, but the change in exports to the EU was positive, with an increase of 10.8 %;

v.  notes, on services, that fundamental weaknesses remain in the internal legislation regarding basic definitions for establishment and movement of professionals and the insurance sector, exposing Moldova to similar risks as those that led to the global banking crisis;

as regards Ukraine:

i.  regrets that the Minsk agreement has not been fully implemented, and encourages the Ukrainian authorities, as well as the Russian authorities, to put all their efforts into a full and complete implementation of their obligations under this agreement; welcomes the work on the legislative reforms needed to meet the requirements of the Minsk agreement, on the work to fulfil the visa liberalisation action plan and to comply with the Association Action Plan, and underlines that these reforms, when fully implemented, will fundamentally change Ukrainian society and improve conditions for Ukrainian citizens;

ii.  calls on the Member States to keep the OSCE mission fully manned and fully operational; notes the calls by the Ukrainian Government for an extended international peace-keeping force along the Ukraine-Russian border and in the Luhansk and Donetsk districts; agrees that, once the situation permits and as part of the full implementation of the Minsk agreement, an EU-led CSDP mission should be offered for deployment to the parties in the conflict, to assist in tasks such as demining, assisting in preparations for local elections and securing free access for humanitarian aid organisations;

iii.  reiterates the call for continued particular attention to judicial reform and the fight against corruption, as a critical point for restoring full trust and legitimacy to the Ukrainian Parliament and Ukrainian political parties;

iv.  calls on the Ukrainian authorities, politicians, leaders, political parties and other opinion makers to make further efforts to unite the country, to overcome internal divisions and to put an end to the often polarised political culture in the country; underlines that the political parties must be transformed into fully democratic and grass-roots-based organisations and not depend on oligarchs for funding and influence; stresses the need for strict implementation of the law on party financing;

v.  welcomes the entry into force of the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement on 1 January 2016 and regrets the decision of the Russian Federation to restrict trade with Ukraine, in violation of WTO and bilateral commitments; recalls that the Commission has been engaged in technical talks with Ukraine and Russia on the consequences of the Free Trade Agreement, which is the first time that the EU has ever entered into talks with a third country regarding a bilateral agreement; hopes that these talks can continue and bring concrete results; calls on the Russian Federation, therefore, to refrain from further trade restrictions, and for a more constructive engagement with both the EU and Ukraine;

vi.  notes that Ukraine has experienced a reduction in its total exports in the first half of 2015, whereas a change in the regional structure of exports has meant that the share of exports going to the EU has remained stable at around 30 % of total exports;

vii.  urges Ukraine to align its legislation with that of the EU in the areas of company law, corporate governance, accounting and auditing and to remove its export restriction measures on wood, which violate article 35 of the Association Agreement and WTO rules;

viii.  welcomes Ukraine’s decision to remove its safeguard measures on passenger cars in line with the WTO ruling of 20 July 2015 and acknowledges the removal of a special erga omnes duty surcharge on grounds of balance-of-payment imbalances which Ukraine introduced at the end of 2014;

14.  Calls for a swift completion of the energy reform initiated in 2015; notes that from 1 April 2016, all energy prices should be unified to avoid further privileged arbitrage for certain insiders, and a real market for gas and electricity should be introduced and supervised by a truly independent regulator;

15.  Stresses the need to promote free media and freedom of expression as a basic foundation, while also stepping up efforts to counter disinformation and improve the strategic communication of EU policies and activities in the Eastern Neighbourhood, including for the three association countries, together with the activities undertaken by the EU East StratCom Task Force, a newly established structure within the EEAS;

16.  Notes that, under Article 49 TEU, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine – like any other European country – may apply to become members of the Union, provided that they adhere to the principles of democracy, respect fundamental freedoms and human and minority rights, and ensure the rule of law;

17.  Reiterates its call for a renewal of the European Neighbourhood Policy, based on a clear and ambitious political vision and the need to speak with one political voice; reiterates its call for EU Special Representatives to be appointed for the East and for the South, with the task of politically coordinating a revised policy;

18.  Calls on its President to forward this resolution to the Presidents, Parliaments and Governments of Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine, and to the Council, the Commission, the EEAS and the Council of Europe.

Key findings of the 2015 report on Turkey

The report on Turkey is part of the 2015 enlargement package adopted today by the European Commission. The Report highlights that the EU and Turkey continued to enhance cooperation in the areas of joint interest, which support and complement the accession negotiations. Political dialogue on foreign and security policy continued, including on counter-terrorism, against the background of Turkey joining the international coalition against Da’esh. Cooperation on visas, mobility and migration was pursued in the framework of the visa liberalisation dialogue launched in December 2013. Turkey continued to provide unprecedented humanitarian aid and support to refugees from Syria and Iraq. A Joint EU-Turkey Action Plan for refugees and migration management was welcomed by the European Council in October. The Commission and Turkey agreed to step up cooperation on energy. Developing further close economic ties was also a shared priority and both sides agreed to initiate procedures in view of a modernisation and extension of the Customs Union. Good progress has been made towards the opening of chapter 17 – economic and monetary policy – which would underpin the envisaged high level economic dialogue.

At the same time, the report emphasises an overall negative trend in the respect for the rule of law and fundamental rights. Significant shortcomings affected the judiciary as well as freedom of expression and freedom of assembly. Turkey saw a severe deterioration of its security situation. The settlement process of the Kurdish issue came to a halt despite earlier positive developments on the issue. It is imperative that the peace talks resume. The new government formed after the repeat election on 1 November will need to address these urgent priorities. Regarding the economic criteria, the Turkish economy is well advanced and can be considered a functioning market economy. Turkey has also a good level of preparation in acquiring the capacity to cope with the competitive pressure and market forces within the EU. Turkey has continued to align with the acquis, albeit at a slower pace,and has achieved a good level of preparation in many areas.

Political criteria

The pace of reforms slowed down over the past year in Turkey, also due to protracted elections and the continued political divide. The 7 June general election saw a record 84% turnout and all major political parties were represented in the new parliament. However, a government could not be formed by the constitutional deadline and repeat elections took place on 1 November, again with a very high turnout of 85 %. All major political parties re-won seats in the parliament with the ruling party securing enough votes to form a majority government. The security of the repeat election was ensured despite concerns due to the situation notably in the east and southeast of the country. There was an increased pressure on the media which gave cause for serious concern. Amongst the shortcomings in the legal framework regulating elections, the 10% threshold of votes to be represented in parliament need to be addressed as a priority.

Turkey saw a severe deterioration of its security situation. The authorities launched an extensive anti-terror military and security campaign against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which remains on the EU list of terrorist organisations, both in Turkey and in Iraq. The settlement process of the Kurdish issue came to a halt despite earlier positive developments on the issue. It is imperative that the peace talks resume.

Turkey was struck by the deadliest terrorist attack in its modern history, on 10 October in Ankara, claiming the lives of scores of demonstrators gathering for a peace rally sponsored by trade unions and opposition parties’ youth branches. It is essential that swift and transparent investigations are conducted into these heinous acts which were aimed to destabilise and harm Turkey’s democracy.

Turkey continued to express its commitment to EU accession. This commitment was, however, offset by the adoption of key legislation in the area of the rule of law, freedom of expression and freedom of assembly that ran against European standards. The President remained engaged in a wide range of key domestic and foreign policy issues, which led within Turkey to criticism that he was overstepping constitutional prerogatives.

Turkey has a strong public service and is committed to a user-oriented administration. However, impetus for a more comprehensive and modern reform is weak. Civil society has remained active, growing in numbers and continuing to be involved in many spheres of public life but restrictions to freedom of assembly continued to be a serious concern.

In the area of the judiciary, Turkey’s justice system has reached some level of preparation. The independence of the judiciary and the principle of separation of powers have been undermined since 2014 and judges and prosecutors have been under strong political pressure. The government’s campaign against the alleged ‘parallel structure’ within the state was actively pursued, at times encroaching on the independence of the judiciary. Substantial efforts are needed to restore the independence of the judiciary.

As regards the fight against corruption, Turkey has reached some level of preparation to effectively prevent and fight corruption. Turkey’s track record in the fight against corruption remains inadequate. Corruption is perceived as widespread. The undue influence by the executive in the investigation and prosecution of high-profile corruption cases continues to constitute a major concern.

Turkey has achieved some level of preparation in the fight against organised crime, and needs to increase financial investigations and improve statistics. The absence of data protection legislation is an impediment for widened cooperation with EU bodies and Member States.

Protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms had considerably improved over the past few years but major shortcomings remain. The enforcement of rights stemming from the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and the case law of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) is not yet fully ensured. There is an urgent need to adopt a comprehensive framework law on combating discrimination in line with European standards. Turkey also needs to effectively guarantee the rights of women, children, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) individuals and ensure sufficient attention to the social inclusion of vulnerable groups such as the Roma. There was significant backsliding in the areas of freedom of expression and freedom of assembly. Legislation on internal security contradicts the measures outlined in the March 2014 action plan on the prevention of violations of the ECHR by granting broad discretionary powers to the law enforcement agencies without adequate oversight. Most recently, the escalation of violence in the east and south east since July gave rise to serious concerns over human rights violations. Anti-terror measures taken in this context need to be proportionate. Turkey should widen the scope and improve the monitoring of the implementation of the action plan. After several years of progress on freedom of expression, serious backsliding was seen over the past two years,with some level of preparation in this field. Ongoing and new criminal cases against journalists, writers or social media users, intimidation of journalists and media outlets as well as the authorities’ actions curtailing freedom of media are of considerable concern. Changes to the internet law are a significant step back from European standards.

Economic criteria

The Turkish economy is well advanced and can be considered a functioning market economy. In the reporting period, Turkey continued to face external and internal imbalances, calling for adjustments in monetary and fiscal policies as well as an acceleration of comprehensive structural reforms. The large current account deficit continued to contribute to the Turkish economy´s vulnerability to shifts in global monetary conditions and risk sentiment. On the internal side, inflation continued to run at a relatively high rate, which is problematic in terms of macro-economic stability, resource allocation and re-distributive effects. It again exceeded the official target; nevertheless the central bank cut interest rates. Public debt has attained a sustainable level, but the general government structural balance has been significantly negative. Structural reforms need also to accelerate to improve the functioning of the markets for goods, services and labour.

Turkey has a good level of preparation in acquiring the capacity to cope with the competitive pressure and market forces within the EU. The quality of education and gender equality in education needs particular attention. Efforts are needed to ensure the transparency of state aid and to remove constraints and exceptions in the area of public procurement.

EU legislation

Turkey has continued to align with the acquis, albeit at a slower pace, and has achieved a good level of preparation in many areas. Turkey is well advanced in the areas of company law, financial services, trans-European networks and science and research. The country has also achieved a good level of preparation in the areas of free movement of goods, intellectual property law, enterprise and industrial policy, customs union, external relations, and financial control. In the area of justice, freedom and security, Turkey remained highly mobilised to tackle the extraordinary migration and asylum challenges. Turkey is only moderately prepared on public procurement and statistics. In all areas, more attention needs to be given to enforce legislation whilst many areas require further significant progress to achieve legislative alignment with the acquis.

State of play on accession negotiations

EU accession negotiations with Turkey began on 3 October 2005. In total, 14 out of 33 negotiation chapters have been opened, and one of the open chapters has been provisionally closed. As a result of Turkey not having fully implemented the Additional Protocol to the Association Agreement, the EU decided in December 2006 that eight negotiating chapters could not be opened and that no chapter could be provisionally closed until Turkey meets its obligations.

Key dates

September 1959: Turkey applies for associate membership of the European Economic Community (EEC)

September 1963: Signature of the Association Agreement, aiming at enhancing economic cooperation and achieving a Customs Union between Turkey and the EEC

April 1987: Turkey presents its formal application for membership of the European Economic Community

January 1995: Turkey – EU Agreement creating a customs union

December 1999: The European Council recognises Turkey as a candidate country

December 2004: The European Council agrees to start accession negotiations with Turkey

October 2005: Start of accession negotiations

December 2006: The Council decides that eight negotiating chapters cannot be opened and no chapter can be closed until Turkey meets its obligation of full, non-discriminatory implementation of the additional protocol to the Association Agreement

May 2012: European Commission and Turkey start the implementation of the Positive agenda for Turkey

November 2013: Chapter 22 on Regional Policy and coordination of structural instruments becomes the 14th chapter on which negotiations are opened

December 2013: The EU-Turkey readmission agreement is signed in parallel with the launching of the visa liberalisation dialogue.

October 2014: The EU-Turkey readmission agreement enters into force.

More information at: http://ec.europa.eu/enlargement/countries/package/index_en.htm

Text adopted – 2012 progress report on Montenegro – P7_TA(2013)0185 – Thursday, 18 April 2013 – Strasbourg – Final edition

The European Parliament,

–  having regard to the Stabilisation and Association Agreement between the European Communities and their Member States, of the one part, and the Republic of Montenegro, of the other part, of 29 March 2010(1) ,

–  having regard to the conclusions of the European Council of 19-20 June 2003 and to the annex thereto entitled ‘The Thessaloniki Agenda for the Western Balkans: moving towards European integration’,

–  having regard to the communication from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council of 9 November 2010 on the Commission’s opinion on Montenegro’s application for membership of the European Union (COM(2010)0670),

–  having regard to the report from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council of 22 May 2012 on Montenegro’s Progress in the Implementation of Reforms (COM(2012)0222), and to the Council conclusions of 26 June 2012 deciding to open accession negotiations with Montenegro on 29 June 2012,

–  having regard to the Commission Staff Working Paper of 10 October 2012 on the 2012 Progress Report on Montenegro (SWD(2012)0331),

–  having regard to the communication from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council of 10 October 2012 on the Enlargement Strategy and Main Challenges 2012-2013 (COM(2012)0600),

–  having regard to the declaration and recommendations of the 4th and 5th Meeting of the European Union – Montenegro Stabilisation and Association Parliamentary Committee (SAPC) of 3-4 April 2012 and 28-29 November 2012,

–  having regard to the first meeting of the EU-Montenegro Civil Society Joint Consultative Committee (JCC) of 2 October 2012,

–  having regard to the recommendation of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe on the application of the European Charter for Regional and Minority Languages by Montenegro, adopted by the Committee of Ministers on 12 September 2012(2) ,

–  having regard to the election observation report by the Ad hoc Committee of the Bureau of the Council of Europe of 29 November 2012,

–  having regard to Rule 110(2) of its Rules of Procedure,

A.  whereas the country’s political leadership has received a fresh mandate at the elections to pursue the objectives of the accession negotiations;

B.  whereas significant progress has been achieved by Montenegro on the path to EU membership;

C.  whereas some shortcomings in the accession process continue to persist and need to be addressed, especially the fight against organised crime and corruption at high level;

D.  whereas the accession process should remain the driving force for continued reforms; whereas civil society has an irreplaceable role in the process of reform and EU integration;

E.  whereas Montenegro is the first country in which a new EU negotiating approach is applied with the strengthened focus on democratic governance, fundamental freedoms, the rule of law, the judiciary, the fight against corruption and organised crime;

F.  whereas the EU has put the rule of law at the core of the enlargement process;

G.  whereas Montenegro continues to play an important role in regional stability;

General considerations

1.  Welcomes the decision of the Council to open accession negotiations with Montenegro on 29 June 2012; notes that this decision is a major step in the country’s accession process and a clear reconfirmation of the EU’s attachment to the European future of the Western Balkans; underlines the progress achieved by Montenegro as noted in the Commission 2012 Progress Report;

2.  Welcomes the peaceful, free and fair conduct of the early parliamentary elections in line with international standards; notes that the electoral legislation is broadly in line with the recommendations of the Venice Commission and the OSCE/ODIHR; underlines that the legal framework must be fully in line with the OSCE/ODIHR recommendations that no citizens are subject to undue restrictions; calls on the authorities to further improve the compilation of voter lists and transparency regarding the oversight of campaign finance, and to ensure the due implementation of the legislation on party funding, including by eliminating all forms of abuse, especially of public resources for political purposes; calls, furthermore, for the proper review of complaints in order to further increase, in line with the OSCE/ODIHR recommendations, public confidence in the electoral process;

3.  Welcomes the creation of the new government, and encourages all political forces to remain focused, through constructive dialogue and close cooperation with civil society, on the country’s EU integration agenda;

4.  Welcomes the opening of negotiations with Montenegro and takes the view that this also represents a positive signal for other countries in the region; encourages the authorities in Podgorica to keep up the reform processes; equally welcomes the EU’s new negotiating approach under which the crucial issues of Chapters 23 and 24 will be tackled early in the negotiations, thus reinforcing the focus on the rule of law, and allowing maximum time to establish the necessary legislation, institutions and solid track records of implementation; considers that new negotiating chapters should be opened as soon as possible, provided that the reform process is sustained and concrete results are delivered;

5.  Notes with satisfaction that assistance provided by the Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance (IPA) works well in Montenegro; encourages both the Montenegrin Government and the Commission to simplify the administration procedure for IPA funding, with the aim of making it more accessible to smaller and non-centralised civil organisations, trade unions and other beneficiaries;

Political criteria

6.  Welcomes the fact that the Montenegrin Parliament’s oversight role has been further strengthened through the adoption of a law on parliamentary inquiry and amendments to the Parliament’s rules of procedure and to the law on data secrecy, as well as with the start of implementation of the law on parliamentary oversight of the security and defence sector; underlines the fact that ensuring civilian control over the military is a critical element of democratic reform; stresses the need to further reinforce law-making capacities and consultations with civil society; calls on the Montenegrin Parliament to continue improving its oversight role especially with regard to the fight against organised crime and corruption; calls for a more active involvement of the Parliament in the accession negotiations through strategic and political discussions, policy analysis and legislative review in different parliamentary committees to gain a meaningful oversight over the negotiations; calls for stronger parliamentary oversight of the implementation of adopted legislation and resolutions;

7.  Urges the Montenegrin Parliament to adopt constitutional provisions to reinforce the legal independence, integrity and accountability of the judiciary and to enhance judicial independence and the professional autonomy of the Judicial and Prosecution Council; takes the view that further efforts are needed to ensure merit-based appointments and career development;

8.  Welcomes measures to enhance judicial efficiency, including a reduction in the backlog of cases, but remains concerned by the length of court procedures and poor infrastructure at many courts; calls on authorities to introduce clear criteria for the promotion and professional assessment of judges and prosecutors; calls for more transparency regarding due legal process and judicial verdicts;

9.  Is concerned by the lack of alternatives to detention for children in conflict with the law; calls on the authorities to promote measures to reinforce the capacities of professionals working with children in contact with the justice system;

10.  Calls for further measures to create a professional, effective, merit-based and impartial public administration which, in practice, should represent a service for citizens; stresses that this should be done in a financially sustainable manner and with adequate verification mechanisms; welcomes the comprehensive reform of the public sector aimed at rationalisation and modernisation, and calls for its implementation;

11.  Calls for strengthening of the links between policy-makers and civil society; welcomes the inclusion of NGOs in the working groups dealing with the accession negotiations in order to ensure the accountability and transparency of the accession process; considers it important that they are equal members of the working groups; welcomes the Government’s new e-petitions platform to enhance participatory democracy in policy-making and e-governance; encourages Montenegro to consider establishing a ‘National Committee’, composed of parliamentarians and civil society representatives, to act as a consultative forum throughout the negotiation period; underlines the responsibility of both the Government and Parliament to inform citizens and civil society in a timely manner on the developments in the negotiation process;

12.  Underlines the fact that Montenegro has ratified the eight core labour rights conventions of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and the revised European Social Charter; points out the important role of social dialogue, and encourages the Montenegrin Government to step up ambitions in the Social Council and to further strengthen it; underlines the importance of improving the transparency and effectiveness of the Social Council; encourages the Montenegrin authorities to amend the Labour Law in order to bring it into line with the EU acquis;

13.  Is worried that the performance of the labour market remains weak and that unemployment has continued to increase and is at 20 %; welcomes the national strategy for employment and human resource development for the period 2012-2015; encourages the Montenegrin authorities to swiftly implement the strategy, strengthen the capacity of the Public Employment Service and increase the efforts to address low activity, employment rates and the mismatch between the available skills and needs;

14.  Regrets the fact that corruption remains common; encourages the Government to implement anti-corruption measures and measures in relation to the conflict of interest, including the new Law on Political Party Financing, in a consistent manner; considers it essential to build up a track record in terms of investigations and convictions, in particular in high-level corruption cases, to further strengthen preventive tools and awareness-raising campaigns and to protect citizens’ reporting on corruption cases; stresses the need to reinforce inter-agency cooperation, enhance related administrative capacities of the supervisory institutions and implement the respective recommendations of the Group of States against Corruption (GRECO) in order to increase the transparency in the funding of political parties and election campaigns; calls for concrete results to be achieved in the investigation of high-level corruption cases, including a re-assessment of controversial privatisation cases;

15.  Calls on the Government to reinforce the legal framework and strengthen the capacities of law-enforcement bodies in combating organised crime; calls for extending domestic, regional and international cooperation, particularly in the field of financial investigations; commends the measures to prevent and combat human trafficking, but calls for effective investigations and prosecution, as well as for measures to strengthen the capacities of law enforcement and judicial authorities dealing with human trafficking and to reinforce the identification and protection of victims, especially children and women;

16.  Calls on the Montenegrin Government and Parliament to develop and adopt, prior to the presidential elections in 2013, a new law on financing the election campaign for the President of Montenegro that is in accordance with the new Law on Political Party Finance and with international best practices of other countries, in order to prevent any misuse of public funds;

17.  Calls on the Montenegrin Parliament to adopt a code of conduct for the prevention of conflict of interest, and to publish information on financial interests of members;

18.  Notes that the media environment is diverse and divided along political lines; urges the competent authorities to ensure and promote media pluralism and freedom of expression by means of a media free from political or any other interference, given that the safeguarding of media freedom is a core EU principle; recalls the importance of fostering responsible media and editorial independence;

19.  Welcomes progress in decriminalising defamation and libel; considers it important to duly investigate and prosecute all threats and attacks against journalists and threats to press freedom; is concerned that police investigations regarding a number of violent attacks against Montenegrin media representatives and facilities have not yet resulted in any final verdict; stresses the need to bring justice to the victims; invites the authorities to ensure the independence, self-sustainability, monitoring capacity and functioning of regulatory bodies based on EU standards;

20.  Calls on the Montenegrin Parliament to ensure the transparency of Montenegrin institutions, and, in particular, to reveal information that could disclose corruption and organised crime, through adequate implementation of the new Law on Free Access to Information, in accordance with the standards of the European Court on Human Rights and with best international practices;

21.  Welcomes progress in the protection and inclusion of all minorities and persons with disabilities; acknowledges, however, that the inclusion of, in particular, the Roma, Ashkali and Egyptians needs to be improved, especially through the implementation of the relevant policy documents; calls on the authorities to take further measures to combat discrimination and to raise awareness of the problem, to improve the living conditions, access to social security, health, education, housing and employment services of the groups in question, to ensure their proper participation in public services, with special regard to the Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian population, including access to inclusive education for all children, and to protect their cultural heritage and identity; condemns physical and verbal attacks against members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community and calls on the authorities to do the utmost to prevent such attacks; underlines the responsibility of the Government and of all political parties to take proactive steps to create a climate of tolerance and inclusion;

22.  Welcomes the Government’s commitment to combating discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity, including by organising the international conference ‘Together against Discrimination’, which brought together high-level governmental entities from the region to discuss the socio-legal situation of LGBT people in March 2012; welcomes the creation of a shelter for LGBT people and hopes that its financing can be secured; calls on the Government to work together with NGOs to prevent further attacks and discrimination; looks forward to closer cooperation in this field; calls on the Montenegrin Government to publicly support plans for a Pride in Podgorica festival in 2013 and to ensure the safety of its participants;

23.  Notes that only limited progress has been made with regard to women’s rights and gender equality; stresses the problem that women remain underrepresented in the Montenegrin Parliament and in other top decision-making positions, on the labour market, and that their employment rights, including equal pay, are often ignored; encourages the authorities to strengthen governmental and other bodies responsible for gender equality with sufficient human and financial resources;

24.  Notes that domestic violence against women still prevails in the society, and encourages the authorities to step up efforts to implement the legislative framework to address this issue and to raise awareness about it; encourages the authorities to express concern over child poverty and the fact that some three out of four poor children live in distant rural areas without access to basic services; calls for improved services for children and families at risk, and for reforms to strengthen the relevant social welfare sectors;

Economic criteria

25.  Commends Montenegro for being at the vanguard of structural reforms in the Western Balkans and for maintaining macroeconomic and fiscal stability, despite the economic crisis; notes, however, the rise in public debt; encourages the Government to continue carrying out structural reforms, rationalise spending, increase labour market flexibility, tackle raising unemployment, foster quality job creation, boost competitiveness in order to become a fully functioning market economy, and support small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs); calls on the Commission to help Montenegro develop a smart, sustainable and inclusive growth agenda, in line with the Europe 2020 strategy;

26.  Calls on the Montenegrin authorities to maintain the balance between economic development and environmental protection; calls on the Government to ensure that privatisation of the national electricity company is conducted in a transparent manner and that the agreed investments are carried out; also recalls the need to specifically bring the development of tourism into line with environmental protection; calls for long-term planning with regard to tourism along the coastline and for the creation of strong mechanisms to prevent the destruction of the environment and corruption in the field of spatial planning and construction;

27.  Encourages the authorities in Podgorica to implement the Strategy for Introduction of Business Clusters, adopted in July 2012, which could improve the competitiveness of the Montenegrin economy by strengthening SMEs and increasing export potential and employment opportunities;

28.  Is concerned about the size of the informal economy, which is a problem that needs to be addressed in order to attract investment, support enterprises and protect employees in an efficient manner;

Ability to assume the obligations of membership

29.  Calls on the Government to enhance the institutional and administrative capacities of state institutions dealing with key areas of the acquis, and to strengthen interinstitutional cooperation and coordination, especially with a view to speeding up the preparations for decentralised management of the IPA components in preparation for the Structural Funds and the Cohesion Fund; calls for further improvement in the efforts to establish a professional, effective, merit-based and impartial public administration;

30.  Encourages the authorities to take further measures to align national legislation with, and implement, the environment and climate acquis and to strengthen relevant administrative capacities and interinstitutional cooperation;

31.  Underlines the need to focus on the sustainable production of electric energy, reconciling the needs of economic development with those of conserving the environment; welcomes some progress in the area of renewable energies; calls for further measures to enhance energy efficiency and ensure security of energy supply;

32.  Encourages further efforts in areas such as the free movement of workers, the free movement of capital, company law, food safety, veterinary and phytosanitary policy, taxation, enterprise and industrial policy, and financial and budgetary provisions;

Regional cooperation and bilateral issues

33.  Underlines the importance of good neighbourly relations and welcomes Montenegro’s constructive role in regional cooperation, especially its active participation in numerous regional initiatives in South East Europe; commends Montenegro for maintaining good bilateral relations with all neighbouring countries; regrets, however, that the delimitation of borders with almost all neighbouring countries remains pending; calls for efforts to resolve all remaining open issues in a good neighbourly spirit, and highlights the need to resolve bilateral issues prior to accession; reiterates its call on the Commission and the Council to start developing, in accordance with the EU Treaties, a generally applicable arbitration mechanism aimed at solving bilateral issues between enlargement countries and Member States;

34.  Welcomes the continued cooperation of Montenegro within the framework of the Sarajevo Declaration Process with regard to the issue of refugees and displaced persons, notably the agreed Regional Housing Programme supported by the April 2012 International Donors Conference in Sarajevo; underlines the need for sustained efforts towards the resolution of issues pending in this process;

35.  Welcomes the signing by Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Montenegro and Serbia of a ministerial declaration and agreement on a Regional Housing Programme and the financing pledged in support of this programme;

36.  Invites Montenegro to align its position on the International Criminal Court with the EU Common Position on the integrity of the Rome Statute;

37.  Welcomes the ratification and entry into force of the agreement between the EU and Montenegro establishing a framework for the participation of Montenegro in European Union crisis management operations;

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38.  Instructs its President to forward this resolution to the Council, the Commission and the Government and Parliament of Montenegro.

(1) OJ L 108, 29.4.2010, p. 3.
(2) CM/RecChL (2012)4.