– 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.”