The forthcoming Bulgarian presidency of the EU, followed by subsequent Austrian and Romanian ones, is seen by many as an opportunity for progress in EU accession of the Western Balkans, since the aforementioned member states, led by Bulgaria, seem to have shown a strong commitment to the EU membership of the Western Balkan countries.
Srđan Cvijić, senior policy analyst on the EU external relations at the Open Society European Policy Institute and member of the Balkans in Europe Policy Advisory Group (BiEPAG), points out at the positive implications of the Bulgarian presidency of the EU as well.
“It is important to continue the momentum started by High Representative Mogherini’s visit to the Balkans in March and crowned by President Juncker’s State of the European Union speech in September basically re-launching EU’s political engagement in the Western Balkans after years of silence”, stresses Cvijić.
According to him, successful enlargement of the EU in the Western Balkans is a litmus test for Union’s ability to perform as a global player and the EU should not allow its internal crises, such as Brexit or democratic backsliding in some of its member states, or any other global player to distract the Union from its main focus.
“If the EU doesn’t succeed in the Western Balkans where it has all the leverage in the world, it will not succeed anywhere else. Moreover, in the light of Brexit, the EU needs a success story to reinvigorate the legitimacy of the entire European project”, asserts Cvijić.
Cvijić reminds that the progress in the accession process and the envisaged reforms should go hand in hand and that the speedier accession of the Western Balkan countries should not proceed in the detriment of the quality of the envisaged reforms.
“Success means having the frontrunners in the EU accession negotiations process, Montenegro and Serbia, join the EU before or around the 2025 horizon, and it also means having the new EU member states successfully undergo the necessary reforms – especially when it comes to rule of law and Copenhagen criteria for EU accession”.
In order to achieve all this, Cvijić argues that a serious improvement of the current system of monitoring progress in the EU accession talks through the Country Reports is needed.
“European Commission needs support to improve the capacity to go beyond monitoring and assessing the adoption of EU legislation towards a serious and qualitative ability to monitor the implementation of laws and regulations. This means a more robust financial engagement when it comes to staff but also creating new instruments to monitor progress”, adds Cvijić.
He sees the so-called Priebe Report in Macedonia as “a good example of an instrument that should be used continuously and in all countries and not only in the ad hoc manner and an instrument that should be used preventively and not only in case of a serious political crisis like it was the case in Macedonia“.
He, too, sees the possibility of the creation of the separate Directorate General dealing with the enlargement process.
“Successful reform of the EU accession negotiations methodology requires the creation of a separate Directorate General and a separate European Commissioner dealing with Enlargement. Bulgarian, Austrian and Romanian presidencies have the opportunity to prepare the grounds for this to occur after the European Parliament elections in 2019.”
“We have a perfect lineup for the creation of a separate DG Membership dealing with the candidate and potential candidate countries for EU membership”, concludes Cvijić.