ZAGREB, February 6, 2018 – The European Commission will outline in Strasbourg on Tuesday a new strategy for the Union’s enlargement to include western Balkan countries, and the purpose of the document is to encourage the six aspirants to step up their efforts to meet the accession criteria, while Croatia, the newest member, welcomes the initiative and says that it will pay additional attention to the matter during its chairmanship over the EU Council in the first half of 2020.
The last draft of the strategy, which Hina saw and which is to be on the agenda of the college of the EC Commissioners, reads that Serbia and Montenegro, described as “the current front-runners in the process”, could be admitted to the EU in 2025, provided that they meet all the necessary conditions, and Serbia is supposed to reach a binding agreement on the normalisation of its relations with Kosovo.
“Accession negotiations are already well underway with Montenegro and Serbia. With strong political will, the delivery of real and sustained reforms, and definitive solutions to disputes with neighbours, they (Serbia and Montenegro) could potentially be ready for membership in a 2025 perspective. This perspective is extremely ambitious. Whether it is achieved will depend fully on the objective merits and results of each country.”
“In Serbia’s case, the interim benchmarks related to the normalisation of relations with Kosovo (chapter 35) must be met and a comprehensive, legally-binding normalisation agreement concluded urgently,” according to the draft.
The Commission also notes that all western Balkan aspirants “now have a historic window of opportunity to firmly and unequivocally bind their future to the European Union.” They are reminded that “accession is and will remain a merit-based process fully dependent on the objective progress achieved by each country.”
The Commission expresses its readiness to prepare recommendations to open accession negotiations with Albania and Macedonia, on the basis of fulfilled conditions. “With sustained effort and engagement, Bosnia and Herzegovina could become a candidate for accession.”
Kosovo is said to have “an opportunity for sustainable progress through implementation of the Stabilisation and Association Agreement and to advance on its European path once objective circumstances allow.” Kosovo is in a special position given that five EU member-states — Spain, Romania, Greece, Cyprus and Slovakia — have not yet recognised its independence.
Prime Minister Andrej Plenković forwarded a letter to European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker to notify him of Croatia’s position on the continuation of the enlargement process, ahead of the presentation of the strategy. Plenković welcomes the fact that the Commission is paying full attention to its enlargement.
Likewise, during its presidency over the European Union in the first half of 2020, Croatia will put special emphasis on EU enlargement and will organise an EU summit meeting with southeastern European countries, according to a source familiar with the content of Plenković’s letter.
Plenković also warns of the legacy from the wars as one of the key issues facing southeast European countries and urges its resolution.
Plenković calls for giving special attention to Bosnia and Herzegovina and its European journey, having in mind that country’s difficult path towards its independence and the specific role which the international community played in that process. The establishment and protection of full equality of all the three constituent peoples will not be possible without amending the election legislation in that country, Plenković underlines in his letter.
Plenković writes that the countries in Croatia’s southeast neighbourhood should be encouraged to make efforts to solve outstanding border issues on the basis of peaceful settlement of disputes in compliance with the UN Charter and international law.
The Commission underscores in its draft strategy that “the EU’s enlargement policy must continue to export stability.” “Therefore, the EU cannot and will not import bilateral disputes.”
One of the goals of the document is to prepare the public in the EU member states for the resumption of the process of EU enlargement, as this topic was pushed to the back-burner during the financial crisis.
The draft document reads that “this firm, merit-based prospect of EU membership for the Western Balkans is in the Union’s very own political, security and economic interest.”
“It is a geostrategic investment in a stable, strong and united Europe based on common values. It is a powerful tool to promote democracy, the rule of law and the respect for fundamental rights. A credible accession perspective is the key driver of transformation in the region and thus enhances our collective integration, security, prosperity and social well-being. It remains essential for fostering reconciliation and stability.”