European Western Balkans

Nine EU Members release a new proposal for the reform of enlargement process

European Council meeting; Photo: European Union

BRUSSELS – Following the French non-paper on the reform of EU enlargement methodology which was released last month, nine EU Member States have drafted their own proposal as a contribution to the debate on how to make the process more efficient.

Austria, Czech Republic, Estonia, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland and Slovenia have drafted a proposal titled “Elements for enhanced enlargement process and sustained and accelerated integration of the Western Balkans”.

The reform of the enlargement process is without prejudice to the decision on opening of accession negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania, which should be taken by March 2020, it is stated in the introduction.

According to the document, seen by the European Western Balkans, negotiating chapters should be grouped by main areas, for example along the line of eight Stabilisation and Association Agreement sub-committees through their joint opening and closing.

“The intergovernmental conferences would become more politically relevant”, the document reads.

The main difference to the French proposal, which envisaged seven stages of the negotiating process, is that the groups of chapters should be possible to in parallel and not consecutively.

New political incentives, according to the documents, include annual meetings of the European Council with the Western Balkan leaders, increased participation of WB representatives in selective Council meetings, as well as Council Committees and Commission working groups. Enlargement of the Western Balkans should also be discussed in the Conference on the Future of Europe, which is planned for 2020-2022.

The document also proposes “Europe Conferences” throughout the region to promote dialogue and consultation. European Parliament, national parliaments and civil society would all be included in this initiative.

Further proposals include better structure for the Chapters 23 and 24 on the rule of law. The document proposes that there should be more prioritization and clear recommendations, including deadlines, and that EU should offer more support in the implementation of the acquis.

“All already available instruments of the accession process, including the imbalance clause, should be further explored to strengthen the EU’s leverage”, the document reads.

Presentation of the level of implementation of the EU acquis should be done in a more measurable, comparable and communicable manner, and improvements such as scoreboards should be considered, the document states.

As for financial incentives, the non-paper emphasises that they should be effective and targeted. Gradual participation in the EU Single Market and the opening of more EU Programmes to the Western Balkans should also be considered.

“The beginning of the new EU legislative cycle provides an opportunity for a renewed impetus to the EU integration of the Western Balkans. We thus look forward to the Commission’s proposals to improve the enlargement process”, the Member States say in the introduction.

Full EU membership of the regions remains the final aim of the process, and EU doors remain open, the non-paper emphasises.

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