The European Commission, in a series of reports of Western Balkan countries, outlined what it called its “next steps towards EU enlargement” including granting EU candidate status to Albania and proposing negotiating a Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) with Kosovo.
For the fourth time, the EC recommended opening EU accession negotiations with Macedonia.
The Commission recommended granting EU candidate status to Albania subject to completion of key reform steps.
Negotiations on an SAA)with Kosovo depend on it making progress in fulfilling a number of short term priorities.
The Commission also confirmed that Croatia, due to join the bloc in 2013, is “on track” in its membership preparations.
In a set of annual reports, the Commission also assesses the progress towards EU accession made elsewhere in the Western Balkans, Turkey, and Iceland over the past year.
Presenting the annual Enlargement Package, European Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Füle said: “Our recommendations place the rule of law firmly at the centre of the accession process. To create a more stable and prosperous Europe, momentum needs to be maintained both for merit-based enlargement process on the EU side and for reforms on the ground in the enlargement countries”.
“Today’s recommendations on Albania, Kosovo and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia as well as the imminent accession of Croatia, the recent start of accession negotiations with Montenegro and candidate status for Serbia – on the basis of clear indications of what is needed to open accession negotiations – show that once reforms are made, the EU delivers on its commitments,” the EC said.
“These positive developments in the Western Balkans send a strong signal of the transformative power of EU enlargement,” the Commission said.
To advance further, the Commission proposes to increase focus on a number of areas, it said.
These were, first, strengthening democratic governance by starting to address rule of law issues well before accession negotiations begin. Second, strengthening freedom of expression and independence of the media. Third, tackling economic issues early in the process to consolidate economic and financial stability and help recovery. Finally, the Commission underlines that bilateral issues should be addressed as soon as possible; they should not hold up the accession process, the EC said.
“The positive agenda, launched to reinvigorate relations with Turkey, is already delivering its first results,” according to the European Commission.
“Turkey’s active support to the positive agenda and its European perspective remains essential. However, concerns are growing regarding Turkey’s lack of substantial progress towards fully meeting the political criteria and the situation regarding fundamental rights on the ground remains a serious concern.”
Full implementation of the obligations under the Customs Union and progress towards normalisation of relations with Cyprus are urgent and could provide new momentum to accession negotiations, the EC said.
(Photo of the European Commission’s Berlaymont Building headquarters: JLogan)
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