European Western Balkans

What do we know so far about the Enlargement Strategy?

European Commission; Photo: European Union

BELGRADE – The Enlargement Strategy, entitled “Credible Perspective of Enlargement to the Western Balkans”, will be presented on 6 February during the plenary session of the European Parliament in Strasbourg.

Following of the adoption of the official text of the document by the College of Commissioners, the Commissioner for European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations, Johannes Hahn, will present a Strategy before the members of the European Parliament when it will be also publicly disclosed.

Notwithstanding the earlier announcement by the President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker that the Strategy would refer to the prospective accession of Serbia and Montenegro to the European Union by 2025, the draft Strategy also includes other candidates and potential candidates for membership from the Western Balkans.

The draft Strategy states that “a credible accession perspective is a key driver of transformation in the region.”

(BalkanInsight, January 22, 2018)

Therefore, the text of the draft places importance on efforts that current candidates and potential candidates have to put in order to meet criteria and already established set of measures.

The Commission believes that by 2025, Serbia and Montenegro could become full members of the EU, while at that time the remaining countries of the region should make an outstanding progress in the pre-accession process.

Serbia and Montenegro can, at best, become full members in 2025, and in order to achieve this ambitious goal, the year 2019 will certainly be a milestone, when both countries are expected to fulfil transitional measures in the chapters of the judiciary and interior affairs, and in the case of Serbia, full normalization of relations with Kosovo is expected, says the draft of the enlargement strategy in the Western Balkans.

(HINA, January 21, 2018)

“For a lasting stability in the region, a full and comprehensive normalization of relations between Belgrade and Pristina is required. A comprehensive normalization of relations in the form of a legally binding agreement is urgently needed and is crucial for the European perspective of both Kosovo and Serbia and the region as a whole”, the document says.

Provided that they meet all the closing measures in all chapters, EU member states could give their consent to closing negotiations with Montenegro and Serbia at an intergovernmental conference by the end of 2023.

(N1, January 21, 2018)

Then, on condition that the negotiations are successfully concluded, in 2024, Serbia and Montenegro could sign accession treaties.

“By the end of 2025, the Accession Treaty should be ratified by all member states, thus completing the process of accession of countries and allowing them to enter by the end of 2025,” states a draft document.

As for Bosnia and Herzegovina, Albania, Macedonia and Kosovo, it is suggested that by 2025 they should “move far on the European path” or, alternatively, that “negotiations with these countries have far advanced.”

(N1, January 21, 2018)

Albania is working hard to reform the judiciary and curb corruption, and according to the draft Strategy, a credible progress in priority areas should be achieved by 2019, whereas Macedonia is expected to achieve tangible results in resolving the name dispute.

Until 2019, Bosnia and Herzegovina should be granted candidate status, yet it must make progress in reforms and become fully functional by the end of 2023, in order to be ready to open accession negotiations.

On the other hand, Kosovo needs to achieve a comprehensive normalization of relations with Serbia, as concrete progress towards the EU is dependent on that, according to the draft Strategy.

With regard to the existing bilateral disputes, Zagreb’s Jutarnji List reports that the draft Strategy indicates that the EU “does not want to import border disputes” between the countries in the region.

“In respect of border disputes that are still not resolved, the parties must unconditionally address the legally binding arbitration before the end of the accession negotiations and must fully comply with the final decision,” the draft European Commission Strategy states.

(Jutarnji list, December 5, 2018)

The adoption of the Strategy, along with the anticipated EU-Western Balkans Summit in Sofia, raises the expectations of EU and regional leaders for the enlargement process to become irreversible. Therefore, 2018 is considered a year of great importance for the EU enlargement process to the Western Balkan countries, and the implications of these activities as well as bilateral ongoings in the region will influence the future progress of these countries on their European paths.

Publication of this article has been supported by the Balkan Trust for Democracy of the German Marshall Fund of the United States

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