European Western Balkans

European Commission is preparing enhanced Western Balkans Strategy

European Commission; Photo: European Union

BRUSSELS – Strategy for the successful accession of Serbia and Montenegro to the European Union announced earlier in September in the “Letter of Intent” by the President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker, might include all of the countries of the Western Balkans.

The announced Strategy, which is due to be published in February in 2018, foresees the perspective accession to the EU of Serbia and Montenegro by 2025.

However, according to some reports, the draft of the Strategy includes other countries of the Western Balkans too – Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo and Macedonia.

According to Koha Ditore, the Strategy predicts that Serbia and Kosovo will sign a legally binding agreement by the end of 2019.

„Comprehensive normalization of relations between Serbia and Kosovo is expected by 2019, which is the key condition for both countries on the road to European integration,” reports Koha.

It is also stated that Strategy foresees that Albania implements reforms in several key areas, one of which is judicial reform and that Macedonia will have the same task, and that its main obstacle on the path towards the EU – the name dispute with Greece, must be resolved.

Regarding the Bosnia and Herzegovina, Koha reports that the Strategy foresees that will get the status of a candidate country by the end of 2019.

Ahead of his today’s official visit to Bosnia and Herzegovina, the EU Commissioner for European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations Johannes Hahn expressed his concern about the lack of progress on necessary reforms so far in 2017.

“While the European Union is more committed than ever to support Bosnia and Herzegovina on its EU path political leaders both in government and in opposition seem more concerned with the usual nationalistic themes and talk about “crisis” instead of focusing on the real work at hand.”

Hahn, however, pointed out that the European Commission is preparing enhanced Western Balkans Strategy, adding that Bosnia and Herzegovina must not fall behind.

The Strategy was also confirmed last week by the Deputy Secretary-General for Global and Economic issues in the EEAS, Christian Leffler, who was one of the speakers at the conference “A Coming Storm? Shaping a Balkan Future in an Era of Uncertainty”, which was organised by the Atlantic Council in Washington DC.

“In February next year the EEAS and the European Commission will present a new policy paper, to clarify what we need to do, to live up to this vision of President Juncker and HR Federica Mogherini.”

Leffler stated that it is necessary to work with the countries of the Balkans as well as with people who live there to advance their path to the EU.

“There has been a progress – this year, the EU showed renewed focus on an engagement with the countries of the Western Balkans, but it has been a challenging year for some of the countries,” adding that the EU finds that the region is in a better shape now than it was in the beginning of the year.

When it comes to the EU’s renewed focus on the Western Balkans, the region has high hopes for the next EU Presidency.

The ambition of the Bulgarian Presidency is to achieve a clear action plan with each of the countries of the Western Balkans, without creating unrealistic expectations, but with concrete steps, it is declared in its list of priorities.

Leffler hopes that Sofia Summit, which is scheduled for May 2018, will play a pivotal role in making more concrete the renewed strategic engagement and focus on the Western Balkans.

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