The European Parliament and the Enlargement Process: Advocacy Space for Civil Society

Author: Hata Kujraković

The rapporteur of the European Parliament for Bosnia and Herzegovina, Paulo Rangel, will soon present to the European Parliament’s (EP) Committee on Foreign Affairs (AFET) the draft Resolution on the 2022 Commission Report on Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH). Every year, the relevant resolutions describe the positions of BiH and other Western Balkans countries in the European integration process and underscore the necessary reforms, the functioning of democratic institutions and the short- and long-term goals that must be met on the European path. Although the resolutions of the European Parliament are not legally binding, they provide the power to AFET to point out pressing problems in the country, attract the attention of national and international actors, and create a degree of pressure on the BiH authorities to timely respond to challenges. Despite the fact that the messages in the resolutions largely coincide with the position of civil society in BiH, it is still necessary to stay in contact with MEPs and actively advocate towards the institutions for faster and more successful social changes. This text will answer the question of how, why and to whom in the EP local civil society organisations and political actors should focus their attention and strengthen the advocacy for local priorities.

All those acronyms…: AFET

Although the European Parliament, representing the voice of the people of the European Union, does not have a major direct influence on foreign policy, it does play a major role in drafting the recommendations for the Council of the EU and the European External Action Service (EEAS). The EP has 705 MEPs, 79 of whom in AFET working on defining the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP). In addition to debating and voting on various legal proposals, many have the task of preparing reports to represent the positions of the Parliament on different matters, such as the above Resolution on the Commission Reports on countries with (potential) candidate status.

Thus, MEPs Isabel Santos, Paulo Rangel, Viola von Cramon-Taubadel, Tonino Picula, Ilhan Kyuchyuk and Vladimir Bilčik prepare and present draft resolutions for Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia, respectively. The political groups then propose amendments to the text and try to reach a compromise to be submitted to the plenary session for adoption. The drafting of these reports, or resolutions, in principle starts after the European Commission’s reports on the progress of BiH or other candidate countries for EU membership are presented in October, and the process itself lasts several months. This is therefore the ideal period for stakeholders to reach out to the aforementioned rapporteurs by holding meetings and preparing briefings and policy positions to raise awareness about the relevant topics, problems or challenges.

As with any topic, the degree of involvement of MEPs in the enlargement policy varies, so it is very important to identify persons who can be allies in the advocacy towards the EU institutions. With respect to to interest and engagement in the case of BiH, in addition to the rapporteurs, Michael Gahler, Romeo Franz, Thijs Reuten certainly stand out, as well as Tineke Strik, Dietmar Köster and Klemen Grošelj who have the role of shadow rapporteurs. The latter three belong to different political groups within the EP and, as shadow rapporteurs, they have the task of ensuring that their point of view, i.e., the position of their political group, is not omitted during the preparation of the report. Together with the rapporteur, they consider all amendments to the report and try to reach a compromise. Regular contact and exchange of information between these MEPs and local CSOs enable a better understanding of the problem, greater visibility and dedication to the challenges faced by BiH as a country with a promised European perspective.

In addition to the resolutions, members of the European Parliament can ask questions to the Council of the EU, the European Commission or the High Representative/Vice President about actions taken to solve a certain problem in a country or whether other EU institutions have taken into account the requested/recommended actions. In this way, they represent a link between civil society and other institutions, calling for transparency and exerting pressure to accelerate or increase efficiency of the solution.

Furthermore, a committee like AFET, at the request of MEPs, organises hearings or exchanges of views with experts that enable them to hear their positions and to hold discussions on key topics, at the same time calling them to account to citizens, as was the case of the hearing of the High Representative in BiH, Christian Schmidt. In this case, the Greens/European Free Alliance (Greens/EFA) requested this meeting due to the great interest of the public and the pressure of civil society caused by changes to election rules on election night. However, the disadvantage of such hearings is that they can be organised behind closed doors, in camera, at the request of the guest and with the approval of Committee Chair. The public does not have access to such meetings and MEPs are not allowed to publicly comment on what was exactly said at the meeting.

It is important to note that the five-year mandate of MEPs expires next year, so domestic actors should be ready to establish or possibly strengthen relations with new/old faces of the European political scene.

All those acronyms: DSEE

The European Parliament Delegation for relations with BiH and Kosovo (DSEE) is a group of MEPs who seek to maintain and deepen relations with the parliaments of these countries. The DSEE, chaired by Romeo Franz, is the EP’s main link with the BiH legislature. Franz co-chaired the Stabilisation and Association Parliamentary Committee (SAPC), while Nebojša Radmanović was the co-chair on behalf of the BiH Parliament. National MPs and MEPs from the respective committees normally meet twice a year to discuss matters of common interest. However, BiH is an exception in this regard, but let us leave this topic for a different text.

Although DSEE primarily nurtures relations with elected representatives from Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo, the Delegation, when traveling to each country for SAPC meetings, organises additional talks with non-governmental organisations and civil servants with the aim of gathering information and views on the local situation. This makes the Delegation a key component in the diplomatic work of the European Parliament. An important aspect of the Delegation is that it can organise a meeting in Brussels or Strasbourg with people whose voices would otherwise not be heard: for example, members of the political opposition or representatives of civil society. In the past year, only one such meeting was held with representatives of BiH civil society – with Dervo Sejdić, Jakob Finci and Valery Perry (who represented Azra Zornić) regarding the non-implementation of the judgments of the European Court of Human Rights.

In brief…

Although we are witnessing the shrinking space for civil society, it is certain that democracy cannot develop without an active civil society. However, the forum for their action at the European level, although limited, truly exists and can help solve local problems; it just needs to be recognised and used in a timely and proper way.

The views expressed in this text do not necessarily reflect the views of the Initiative for Monitoring European Integration’s members or the Initiative itself.