European Western Balkans

Seven stages of EU accession: This is how France would reform the process

Emmanuel Macron; Foto: Bulgarian EU Presidency / Flickr

BRUSSELS – Twenty years after recognizing the European perspective of the Western Balkan countries, their transformation is too slow and it is therefore necessary to reform the current accession process, reads the non-paper France shared with EU member states, released by Politico.

European Commission should formulate the proposals defining the new method by January 2020, it is stated in the document.

Instead of current 35 negotiating chapters, France proposes seven stages of accession process, each of them representing policy blocks in which candidate countries would gradually be included.

Other three principles include more stringent conditions, tangible benefits and reversibility.

Out of the six Western Balkan countries, only Montenegro and Serbia have started their accession negotiations, with North Macedonia and Albania being vetoed primarily by France last month. Paris justified its move by the need to reform the negotiating process, which resulted in a two and a half pages long document, the details of which are now available to the public.

Seven stages: From rule of law to foreign affairs

According to the proposal, the first stage of the negotiating process would tackle the rule of law, fundamental rights, justice and security, and it would be the only cross-cutting stage, meaning that it would remain relevant for progress across all sections, similarly to the present “fundamentals firsts” principle.

Stage two encompasses fields such as education, youth, culture, telecommunications, energy and environment, while the third stage covers employment, social policy and competitiveness.

Economic and financial affairs would be covered by the stage four, while internal market and agriculture would become a part of stage five.

Finally, stage six would tackle foreign affairs, with other matters, including the Chapter 35, included in the seventh and final stage.

The closing of negotiations corresponding to each stage completed by the country would open up the possibility to participate in EU programmes, to be involved in certain sectoral policies and, where appropriate, to benefit from certain targeted finance. For example, the completion of stage two would allow the candidate to participate in Erasums +, European Research Space and Trans-European Networks, among others.

Stricter conditions, more financial support and reversibility

The second principle of the French proposal concerns the criteria for moving from one stage to the next. It is emphasised that they could be inspired by indicators set out by the European Union and other international organisations, such as Council of Europe, GRECO and OECD.

It is necessary for the citizens of the region to feel more tangible benefits – this is the third principle of the French proposal. This includes increased financial support and a possibility of making candidate countries eligible for structural funds.

Finally, the fourth principle tackles probably the most controversial issue – reversibility of the entire process. France proposes that the candidate which no longer meets certain criteria or ceases to fulfil the commitments should gradually loose its previously gained rights.

It is also proposed that an annual meeting of the European Council could be held with Heads of State and Government of the Western Balkan countries, in order to address issues of common interest.

Commitment to EU perspective of the region and a timeframe

In the introduction to the non-paper, France aims to dispel any notion that it is offering anything less than ultimate EU membership for the Western Balkan countries.

“Closer ties between the European Union and the countries of the Western Balkans, and their effective accession once the European Union has been reformed and made more effective and responsive for its Member States and candidate countries, will also make Europe more sovereign and more united”, the paper reads.

However, there are no dates by which the conclusion of the reform of the EU should be expected. It is only mentioned that the Council should propose to the Commission to formulate proposals for defining the new method before the next Enlargement Package is published, by January 2020.

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