As Lisbon Treaty seems to come into force also the enlargement process in the Western Balkans got new boost. On 14 October 2009 the Commission adopted its annual strategy document explaining its policy on EU enlargement.The document includes also a summary of the progress made over the last twelve months by each candidate and potential candidate: Croatia, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Turkey, as well as Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Serbia and Kosovo (under UN resolution 1244).
In addition of strategy paper the Commission published the 2009 progress reports of each of the candidate and potential candidates. Below is a summary related to the countries of Western Balkans. My source has been European Commission Enlargement pages from where one can find the strategy, country reports and also other key documents related to enlargement.
EC’s country conclusions
- Croatia has made good progress in meeting the benchmarks set in the accession negotiations and negotiations have now formally resumed following the political agreement between Slovenia and Croatia over handling the border issue. Croatia will need to pursue its reform efforts, in particular on the judiciary and public administration, the fight against and organised crime, and minority rights. If Croatia meets all outstanding benchmarks in time, the accession negotiations could be concluded next year.
- Montenegro applied for EU membership in December 2008 and the Commission is currently preparing an Opinion as requested by the Council. Parliamentary elections met almost all international standards. Strengthening administrative capacity and consolidating the rule of law remain major challenges.
- Albania applied for EU membership in April. The Commission stands ready to prepare its Opinion, once invited to do so by the Council. Parliamentary elections met most international standards. Strengthening the rule of law and ensuring the proper functioning of State institutions remain major challenges.
- Bosnia and Herzegovina urgently needs to speed up key reforms. The country’s European future requires a shared vision on the overall direction of the country by its leadership, the political will to meet European integration requirements and to meet the conditions which have been set for the closure of the OHR.
- The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia has made important progress and has substantially addressed the key accession partnership priorities. The Commission considers that the country sufficiently fulfils the political criteria set by the Copenhagen European Council in 1993 and the Stabilisation and Association Process and therefore has decided to recommend the opening of accession negotiations.
- Serbia has demonstrated its commitment to moving closer to the EU by building up a track record in implementing the provisions of the Interim Agreement with the EU and by undertaking key reforms. In light of sustained cooperation with ICTY, the Commission considers that the Interim Agreement should now be implemented by the EU. Serbia needs to demonstrate a more constructive attitude on issues related to Kosovo.
- In Kosovo, stability has been maintained but remains fragile. The EU’s rule of law mission EULEX has been deployed throughout Kosovo and is fully operational. Kosovo faces major challenges, including ensuring the rule of law, the fight against corruption and organised crime, the strengthening of administrative capacity, and the protection of the Serb and other minorities.
Some latest developments
On 23rd October 2009 European Commission representative gave (FYR)Macedonia six weeks and a day to Macedonia, till the EU Council meets, to promote its name talks with Greece and secure a date for the start of EU accession talks. The change in power in Greece can create some positive atmosphere for the name negotiations.
According to the 2009 European Commission progress report, judicial reform in Albania remains in its early stages, with little progress made thereon in the last year. Now the General Prosecutor’s Office seeks the authorisation to investigate a judge on corruption-related charges. A constitutional amendment that would restrict the immunity of judges is needed for implementation of this task.
The second round of crucial high-level talks, aimed at ending Bosnia-Herzegovina’s convoluted political impasse, ended on Wednesday without concrete results.The talks on last week ended after only a couple of hours, with all Bosnian Serb and Croat leaders and some Bosniak (Bosnian Muslim) representatives rejecting some or all of the proffered package.
During President Medvedev’s state visit in Serbia a number of bilateral agreements were signed, including one to establish a joint company (South Stream Serbia) to plan, build, and manage the section of the South Stream gas pipeline, which will pass through Serbia. A second deal saw the foundation of the Banatski Dvor UGS Joint Venture, which will construct and manage a gas storage facility in northern Serbia.
The International Court of Justice, ICJ, has set the agenda for a hearing on Kosovo’s independence declaration. More over background in my article “UN is sending Kosovo case to ICJ”
Albania’s press freedom was recently reconfirmed as the worst in the Balkans, by the Reporters Without Borders’ Freedom of the Press Index. Albania is ranked 88 of 179 countries polled for the index, squeezed in between the United Arab Emirates and Senegal. Macedonia ranks 34, Bosnia 39, Romania 50, Serbia 62, Bulgaria 68, Kosovo 75, Croatia 77 and Montenegro 78. A wave of bombings against the political and media spheres during 2008 tarnished the image of Croatia within the EU at a time when the country was hoping to join the bloc as quickly as possible.
On a positive note, citizens of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia (excluding residents of Kosovo) are on course to benefit from eventual visa liberalization to Schengen countries from 1 January 2010. The Commission plans to table proposals by the middle of next year to extend this right to Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina, provided they meet the necessary conditions. A dialogue with Kosovo, with the perspective of visa liberalization once key conditions have been met, has also been proposed.
EU also has free-trade arrangements in place with the rest of the Western Balkans – the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro, Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Serbia.
When Ireland said yes to Lisbon and President Klaus is tired alone to resist the Treaty the way seems open for Croatia, (FYR) Macedonia to join EU. Albania, Montenegro and Serbia can follow soon if they want. Bosnia-Herzegovina is collapsing as state (more e.g. In my article “Bosnia collapsing“)
Kosovo may get some progress if EU is ready to squander more billions of euros for its capacity building efforts, but my overall view about Kosovo is quite pessimistic (More e.g in my article “Kosovo update”)
One question is what is the added value for part of Bosnia-Herzegovina and Serbia to be a EU member state; most important pragmatic benefits can be achieved through visa-liberalization and free-trade agreements.
Technically EU can absorb the whole region as well Iceland in near future. The big question is Turkey as the opinions against its membership is still relatively high. However during next few years Turkey will come an energy through implementation of Blue Stream pipeline from Russia and South Stream, possible implementation of Nabucco and planned import of gas from Iraq and Iran. So in energy game Turkey will have some aces; if not membership EU must offer very attractive “third way” solution for Turkey, why not do the same with some states of the Western Balkans if needed.
The situation can change fast if the main players change. E.g next Summer the Conservatives may enter into power in UK and even without delayed referendum over Lisbon Treaty the approach towards EU enlargement and other EU issues can differ from today’s situation.
2009 progress reports of Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, (FYR) Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Kosovo province can be found as pdf from my Document library.