European Integration

EU clarifies Western Balkans enlargement strategy

The Eu­ro­pean Com­mis­sion has adopted a new strat­egy with an EU ac­ces­sion per­spec­tive for the coun­tries in the West­ern Balkans. The ini­tia­tive high­lights key ar­eas where the po­ten­tial fu­ture mem­ber states need to re­form along with fun­da­men­tal EU in­sti­tu­tional re­forms nec­es­sary for the ef­fec­tive func­tion­ing of an en­larged union.

– On Tues­day the Eu­ro­pean Com­mis­sion adopted a new strat­egy for the West­ern Balkans; a set of ini­tia­tives and cri­te­ria for the en­large­ment of the Eu­ro­pean Union through the ac­ces­sion of Mon­tene­gro, Ser­bia, Mace­do­nia, Al­ba­nia, Bosnia and Herze­gov­ina, and Kosovo.

When pre­sent­ing the new strat­egy, Eu­ro­pean Com­mis­sion Pres­i­dent Jean-Claude Juncker high­lighted the im­por­tance of the re­gion for Eu­rope: “in­vest­ing in the sta­bil­ity and pros­per­ity of the West­ern Balkans means in­vest­ing in the se­cu­rity and fu­ture of our union” and fur­ther added that “with strong po­lit­i­cal will, real and sus­tained re­forms, and de­fin­i­tive so­lu­tions to dis­putes with neigh­bours, the West­ern Balkans can move for­ward on their re­spec­tive Eu­ro­pean paths”. The EU is also key for the eco­nomic pros­per­ity of the West­ern Balkans, be­ing its largest trad­ing part­ner, as well as most im­por­tant donor and in­vestor.

The adopted strat­egy high­lights sev­eral cru­cial ar­eas where the six coun­tries need to im­ple­ment com­pre­hen­sive re­forms in or­der to pro­ceed to­wards join­ing the EU. The com­mis­sion makes par­tic­u­lar em­pha­sis on the rule of law and fun­da­men­tal rights as ar­eas that need to be strength­ened sig­nif­i­cantly, and that all coun­tries “must un­equiv­o­cally com­mit, in both word and deed, to over­come the legacy of the past, by achiev­ing rec­on­cil­i­a­tion and solv­ing open is­sues, in par­tic­u­lar bor­der dis­putes, well be­fore ac­ces­sion to the Eu­ro­pean Union” in­clud­ing a need for a “com­pre­hen­sive, legally-bind­ing nor­mal­i­sa­tion agree­ment be­tween Ser­bia and Kosovo”.

An­other as­pect of the strat­egy is the adap­ta­tion of the EU de­ci­sion mak­ing process to en­sure that the EU can ef­fec­tively func­tion af­ter an en­large­ment by mak­ing fur­ther use of qual­i­fied ma­jor­ity vot­ing in the Eu­ro­pean Coun­cil. To that end, the com­mis­sion has promised to pre­sent pos­si­bil­i­ties to fur­ther en­hance the use of qual­i­fied ma­jor­ity vot­ing in the third quar­ter of 2018 in ad­di­tion to what is al­ready fore­seen. The com­mis­sion also high­lights that a more ef­fec­tive sys­tem is needed to tackle sys­temic threats to or breaches of the rule of law in EU mem­ber states with a com­mis­sion ini­tia­tive to be ex­pected in Oc­to­ber this year.

Given the hos­til­ity be­tween some of the po­ten­tial mem­ber states in the West­ern Balkans, the com­mis­sion ac­knowl­edges that spe­cial arrange­ments must be put in place to en­sure that fu­ture mem­ber states are not in a po­si­tion to block the ac­ces­sion of other West­ern Balkan can­di­date coun­tries.

EU High Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Fed­er­ica Mogherini summed up the path ahead for the EU and its po­ten­tial fu­ture mem­bers: “for all our six part­ners to over­come once and for all the past, for all of us to­gether to make the process of the West­ern Balkans to­wards the Eu­ro­pean Union ir­re­versible and keep re­unit­ing the Con­ti­nent. This strat­egy gives all of us a shared, clear, un­equiv­o­cal, cred­i­ble and con­crete per­spec­tive for each and every one of our six part­ners’ EU in­te­gra­tion. The next months will be not only in­tense but also cru­cial to make sure that this his­toric and unique op­por­tu­nity is seized.”

Kosovo is slowly moving closer to normalising its relationship with the EU

Seven years af­ter Kosovo's de­c­la­ra­tion of in­de­pen­dence, Kosovo is still fac­ing sub­stan­tial ob­sta­cles to reg­u­lar­is­ing its re­la­tion­ship with the EU. We had a dis­cus­sion with Kosovo's Min­is­ter of In­te­rior Af­fairs, Sk­ender Hy­seni, about what lays ahead.

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