A delegation of the European Integration Committee of the National Assembly of the Republic of Serbia took part in the 60th Plenary Meeting of the Conference of Parliamentary Committees for Union Affairs of Parliaments of the European Union (COSAC), organized under the auspices of the Austrian Presidency of the European Union Council in Vienna, on 18-20 November 2018.
The meeting was attended by representatives of the 28 EU member states, the European Parliament, European Commission, European Council, EU candidate states – Albania, Montenegro, Serbia, Macedonia and Turkey, as well as guests invited by the host – Andorra, Iceland, Monaco, Norway, Switzerland, Ukraine and so-called Kosovo* (with the footnote – “This designation is without prejudice to positions on status, and is in line with UNSCR 1244 (1999) and the ICJ Opinion on the Kosovo declaration of independence” and no state insignia). The delegation of the National Assembly’s European Integration Committee comprised Committee Deputy Chairperson Elvira Kovacs, Committee member Biljana Pantic Pilja and MP Vladimir Djuric.
The 60th COSAC plenary meeting focused on the Austrian Presidency of the European Union Council, Brexit – current state, climate policy and Energy Union and a transparent European Union closer to its citizens in light of the upcoming elections to the European Parliament.
On day one the attending discussed the Austrian Presidency, Brexit and the EU climate policy and Energy Union project.
The meeting was opened by the President of the Austrian National Council Wolfgang Sobotka and the President of the Federal Council Inge Posch-Gruska who reminded everyone of the challenges the European Union is faced with which demand comprehensive solutions at the level of the Union and strengthening of its citizens’ shaken trust. That is why the exchange of information and parliamentary dialogue within COSAC are vital for constructive cooperation between the member states and effective decision-making concerning important issues. They emphasized the importance of supporting the Western Balkan countries which need to be given clear European prospects so as to weaken the influence of countries like China and Russia in the region. They also concluded that the European Union needs the Western Balkans.
In the session about the Austrian Presidency, State Secretary at the Austrian Federal Ministry of the Interior Karoline Edtstadler presented the results of the Austrian Presidency of the EU Council with the motto “A Europe that protects” focusing on the key priorities of security and fight against illegal immigration, digitalization, enlargement policy and stability in the EU neighbourhood.
European Integration Committee Deputy Chairperson Elvira Kovacs thanked the Austrian Presidency for its engagement in the region and support of the enlargement policy as confirmed by the visits of the Austrian President, Prime Minister and President of the National Council to Serbia and the region. This show of support was very much appreciated. She added that the enlargement policy as contained in the European integration process launched a series of reforms in each of the states in the region and yielded tangible results. The continued support to the reform in the Western Balkan countries is very important at the moment and a clear perspective of EU accession is the key factor of stability in the region. She concluded that the accession process means more than just opening and closing negotiation chapters, it means the transformation of the country into a modern and prosperous society whose citizens have high living standards and enjoy the rule of law, adding that we hope that by the end of the Austrian Presidency there would be an Intergovernmental Conference to open new negotiation chapters in the EU-Serbia accession talks.
The next session was Brexit – current state. The debate was conducted by MEP Danuta Hübner and Sir William Cash of the UK House of Commons and Lord Timothy Boswell of the House of Lords. The key objective is to make the Brexit process easy on the citizens and protect their rights.
On day one of COSAC the parliamentarians also considered the EU climate policy and energy production, presented by Maros Sefcovic, Vice-President of the European Commission for Energy Union. He presented the EU’s work on meeting the 2030 goals concerning energy efficiency and use of renewable resources. Parliamentarians from all the EU states gave their full support to the so called “clean” energy, the cost of which had gone markedly down in the last years, and also urged for strengthening the EU’s energy capacities and more research and innovation to reduce the EU’s energy dependence and enable it to face up to climate change.
On day two the participants discussed a transparent European Union closer to its citizens in light of the upcoming elections to the European Parliament. The discussion was opened by Josef Moser, Austrian Federal Minister of Constitutional Affairs, Reforms, Deregulation and Justice. He said that the EU institutions need to recover the citizens’ trust, just as the member states need to trust one another more. He spoke about the cooperation initiatives Austria worked on in the course of its Presidency and highlighted the importance of stability in the EU neighbourhood and close cooperation with the counties of the Western Balkans in all areas important for the Union’s security.
Mairead McGuinness, First Vice President of the European Parliament, spoke about the challenges to transparency in the EU institutions, reminding the attending that transparent parliamentary procedures play a key role in keeping the citizens well-informed and prevent Euro-scepticism and populism. The citizens want to see concrete results, which requires a concentrated action at the national and Union level.
European Integration Committee Deputy Chairperson Elvira Kovacs spoke about the importance of the word inclusion which she believes is the answer to the democratic deficit in the functioning of the EU and to overcoming the loss of trust in EU institutions. Research shows that a state or a region can be prosperous only if its institutions are transformed from closed and exclusive into ones inclusive and open to wide economic and political participation. Inclusion is the key principle and starting point for the process of redefining European policies. The degree of inclusion or exclusion, degree of civic participation strengthens the political community, social cohesion and the horizontal ties between different minority and social groups. The united Europe project can survive only if the gap between the decision-makers and the citizens is lessened, if political inclusion is strengthened and with the inclusion of all minority communities. A society that enables vertical and horizontal movement is a society that will defeat populism and all the accompanying manifestations. Only an inclusive community can defeat fear and make a dent in prejudice. Prejudice is probably undefeatable but it fades in a community which is open and not filled with ghettoized enclaves. Ghettoized societies breed populism, violence and hate speech.
The parliamentarians agreed that the national parliaments need to have a bigger influence on decision-making at the EU level and that the Union needs to be unified in the way it pursues these decisions, also emphasizing the role of the national parliaments in promoting the results of the EU among their citizens and fostering dialogue between the citizens and EU institutions.
At the end of the meeting the participants adopted the Joint Conclusions and Joint Statement of the COSAC concerning security and fight against illegal immigration, securing prosperity and competitiveness through digitalization, cooperation with the countries of the Western Balkan and South-East Europe, climate policy and Energy Union and a transparent European Union closer to its citizens.