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Council conclusions: Western Balkans to focus on fundamental reforms

Meeting of the General Affairs Council 19 November 2019; Photo: European Union

BRUSSELS – The Council on Tuesday approved conclusions on enlargement and stabilization and association process. The conclusions assess the situation in each of the EU candidates and partners, set out guidelines on reform priorities, and reaffirm the Council’s commitment to the EU’s enlargement policy.

In line with the revised enlargement methodology endorsed by the Council in 2020, a strong focus is put on fundamental reforms in the rule of law, fundamental rights, economic development and competitiveness, strengthening of democratic institutions and public administration reform.

The EU General Affairs Council approved during the meeting on 13 December the proposal to grant candidate status to Bosnia and Herzegovina. The decision is now to be confirmed by the EU27 leaders in the European Council summit, scheduled for 15 December. 

Bosnia and Herzegovina to be granted EU candidate status this week

 

When it comes to Montenegro, in the conclusions, Ministers agreed that the utmost priority for further progress in the accession negotiations, and before moving towards the provisional closure of other chapters, remains the fulfilment of the rule of law interim benchmarks set under chapter 23 and 24. 

“The Council urges all political actors in Montenegro to demonstrate responsibility, overcome polarization and calls on them to refrain from any action that could further deepen the institutional crisis and undermine the country’s democratic institutions”, Council’s document said. 

Ministers encourage Montenegro to increase its efforts, particularly in critical areas such as freedom of expression and media and the fight against corruption and organized crime. 

“While acknowledging the progress made, the Coucnil underlines the need to improve Montenegro’s track record of investigations, prosecutions, final convictions and seizure and confiscation of criminal assets”. 

The Council assessed that Albania made progress in the fundamentals and particularly in the rule of law, specifically by implementing the comprehensive justice reform, which has “advanced steadily, and by strengthening the fight against corruption and organized crime “.

EU calls on Albania to refrain from establishing any scheme or measure such as tax amnesty legislation which could “compromise or undermine alignment with the EU acquis and policies, including EU procedures and measures aimed at preventing money laundering and tax evasion “.

The Ministers welcome that the vetting process has continued to advance steadily and produced tangible results. Regarding fundamental rights, the Council continues to call on Albania to make tangible progress on freedom of expression. 

Ministers strongly commend Albania for its consistent cooperation on foreign policy issues and, in particular, its full alignment with the EU Common Foreign and Security Policy, including on EU restrictive measures – a strong signal of Albania’s strategic commitment to its EU path.

In the part of the conclusions for North Macedonia, Council welcomes that the European Commission already advanced its work to carry out the analytical examination of the EU acquis – screening process and looks forward to the completion of this process. 

The Ministers welcome that some progress was made in the area of the fundamentals and in particular, in the field of the rule of law, including the fight against corruption and organized crime, adding that more efforts are needed. The Council calls on North Macedonia to continue its efforts to strengthen further fundamental rights, media freedom and freedom of expression. 

EU Ministers welcome continued progress with regard to strengthen democracy and the rule of law in Kosovo. It calls on Kosovo to continue to step up the fight against organized crime. The Council welcomes Kosovo’s strong condemnation of Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine, its “clear geo-strategic orientation as well as its voluntary alignment with and continued implementation of the EU restrictive measures, in particular against Russia and Belarus”.

On the EU-facilitated Dialogue, the Council welcomes the continuation of the Dialogue and commends the High Representative and the EUSR for the Belgrade-Pristina Dialogue and other Western Balkan regional issues for their commitment.

“The Council expects Kosovo to engage in the EU-facilitated Dialogue in good faith and in the spirit of compromise to achieve a comprehensive legally binding agreement with Serbia on normalization of relations in accordance with international law and EU acquis with no further delay”, conclusions said, adding that this agreement should address all outstanding issues and contribute to regional stability.

The Council calls on both Parties to refrain from unilateral and provocative actions that could lead to tensions and violence and from rhetoric that is not conducive to Dialogue, reminding Kosovo and Serbia that they share the responsibility to ensure peace and stability. EU ministers recall the importance of Kosovo’s close cooperation with the EULEX mission and other relevant international actors. 

The EU deeply regrets Serbia’s backsliding in alignment with the European Foreign policy, especially about the sanctions against Russia and Belarus, as well as foreign policy activities that contradict the EU’s common approach.

The EU welcomes Serbia’s “overall progress” in membership negotiations, in which 22 out of 35 chapters have been opened so far, but stresses that reforms in the rule of law and fundamental rights need a “renewed momentum”.

The Council calls on the authorities in Serbia to “come out objectively in public about the EU and to be actively involved in preventing all kinds of misinformation and external manipulation through all media channels”.

In the part of the text on the rule of law, it is stated that Serbia should show the political will to strengthen the fight against corruption and concrete, tangible results in this area.

The Council of the EU expresses “serious concern” about the lack of progress in freedom of expression and the independence of the media, which affects “the possibility of voters to have an informed choice during the electoral process”. An invitation was sent to the authorities in Serbia to urgently implement a media strategy “in the spirit of the adopted goals.”

The EU expects Serbia to “immediately” engage in Dialogue with Pristina to reach a “comprehensive legally binding agreement on the normalization of relations by international law and the European acquis”.

The conclusion was that the agreement should “resolve all outstanding issues between the two parties,” underscoring “the strong expectation that all previous agreements will be fully respected and implemented without delay.”

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