In a set of annual reports adopted today, the European Commission recommends granting EU candidate status to Albania and, for the fifth time in a row, the opening of accession negotiations with the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. The Commission also assesses the progress towards EU accession made elsewhere in the Western Balkans and in Turkey over the past year. Given the Icelandic government’s decision to put accession negotiations on hold, a simplified report on Iceland takes stock of the current state of its alignment with the EU.
Presenting the annual Enlargement Package, Commissioner Štefan Füle said: ‘Enlargement is a process in the making and despite the economic crisis it is a good policy – it constitutes part of the solution. Enlargement continues to be one of the most effective EU policies. By addressing ‘fundamentals’ first – such as the fight against corruption, sound economic governance, freedom of expression and media, human rights and protection of minorities – it strengthens political and economic stability in the aspiring countries and the EU as a whole.”
The enlargement strategy adopted today confirms the continued relevance of the fundamentals of the Copenhagen membership criteria agreed by the EU 20 years ago. These include the rule of law, which remains firmly anchored at the heart of the enlargement process. The countries concerned need to tackle issues such as judicial reform and the fight against organised crime and corruption early in the accession negotiations, to demonstrate a solid track record of sustainable results.
The global economic crisis has underlined the need for all countries to strengthen their economic governance and improve competitiveness. The Commission has set out a number of proposals to support this aim, including the introduction of national economic reform strategies and action plans for public financial management.
Recent events in a number of enlargement countries have underlined the importance of strengthening democratic institutions and making democratic processes more inclusive. All the countries in the Western Balkans and Turkey need to undertake further reforms to ensure that the principles of freedom of expression and the rights of persons belonging to minorities, including Roma are respected in practice. More robust measures are needed to protect other vulnerable groups from discrimination, in particular on grounds of sexual orientation. The Commission will increase the priority attached to these issues in the accession process, including through better targeted pre-accession funding and increased assistance to support Roma inclusion through a Roma “facility”.
For detailed findings and recommendations on each country see Memos:
The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia: MEMO/13/890
Bosnia and Herzegovina: MEMO/13/889
* This designation is without prejudice to positions on status, and is in line with UNSCR 1244 and the ICJ Opinion on the Kosovo Declaration of Independence.
MONTENEGRO: candidate – applied in 2008. Accession negotiations were opened in June 2012. Two negotiating chapters have been opened and provisionally closed. The ‘screening’ meetings have been completed. In June, Montenegro adopted action plans on negotiating chapters 23 (judiciary and fundamental rights) and 24 (justice, freedom and security). After a positive assessment by the Commission, the EU asked Montenegro in September to submit its negotiating positions on these chapters. Montenegro submitted its negotiating positions in early October.
SERBIA: candidate – applied in 2009, obtained candidate status in March 2012. The EU-facilitated dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina was launched in March 2011. The First agreement of principles governing normalisation of relations was reached with Kosovo in April 2013. The momentum of reforms has also been reinvigorated in Serbia. The European Council decided in June 2013 to open accession negotiations. The first Intergovernmental Conference on Serbia’s accession negotiations will be held in January 2014 at the very latest, after the Council adopts the negotiating framework, which was proposed by the Commission in July 2013. In the meantime, the ‘screening’ began in September 2013. The Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) entered into force on 1 September.
THE FORMER YUGOSLAV REPUBLIC OF MACEDONIA: candidate – applied in 2004. The country continues to sufficiently fulfil the political criteria. The political crisis from late last year demonstrates the need for more inclusive and constructive politics. The High Level Accession Dialogue has led to a sharper focus on, and delivery of, EU-related reforms. Greater attention needs to be placed on effective implementation, addressing shortcomings in the area of freedom of expression and improving the independence and competence of the courts. The Commission has recommended five years in a row that accession negotiations be opened. The Council has not yet taken a decision on this. The Commission believes that a decision to open accession negotiations would also contribute to creating the conditions to finding a solution to the name issue and improving good neighbourly relations.
ALBANIA: potential candidate – applied in 2009. Parliamentary elections in June were conducted in an overall orderly manner. Albania adopted a number of important legal instruments, including key requirements for the granting of candidate country status, and continued working on the fight against corruption and organised crime. Against this background, the Commission [recommends granting candidate status on the understanding that Albania continues to take action in the fight against organised crime and corruption]. Before the Commission can recommend opening accession negotiations Albania will need to intensify reforms in key priority areas, notably as regards the rule of law.
BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA: potential candidate – has a European perspective like the rest of the Western Balkans. The launch of the high level dialogue with Bosnia and Herzegovina last year was positive but the results achieved so far by Bosnia and Herzegovina’s leaders remain below expectations. Relations with the EU are at standstill, and substantial efforts are needed to meet the conditions allowing for the entry into force of an SAA and for a credible membership application.
KOSOVO: potential candidate – shares a European perspective with the rest of the Western Balkans region. The EU-facilitated dialogue between Pristina and Belgrade was launched in March 2011. The First agreement of principles governing normalisation of relations was reached with Serbia in April 2013. In June 2013 the Council authorised the Commission to start negotiations for a Stabilisation and Association Agreement with Kosovo. Negotiations are about to start.
TURKEY: candidate – applied in 1987. Accession negotiations started in October 2005; 13 chapters are opened of which 1 provisionally closed. In June 2013 the Council agreed to open the negotiating chapter 22 on regional policy and coordination of structural instruments, with the common position subject to confirmation by the General Affairs Council after the presentation of the Commission’s annual progress report. The Commission underlines the importance for the EU to enhance its engagement with Turkey, so that it remains the benchmark for reforms in the country.
ICELAND: candidate – applied for membership in 2009. Accession negotiations started in June 2010 and were put on hold by Iceland in May 2013, with 27 chapters having been opened of which 11 are provisionally closed. As Iceland is a member of the EEA and the Schengen area, a large part of its legislation is already aligned with that of the EU.
The documents can be found at:
Brussels, 16 October 2013
Peter Stano (+32 2 295 74 84)
Anca Paduraru (+32 2 296 64 30)