European Commission releases regular reports on Western Balkans countries – key points

The European Commission (EC) released regular reports on the countries of the Western Balkans that are not members of the European Union but aspire to membership of the bloc.

The reports are linked to the EU’s “Enlargement Package” reports, which in 2013 features a shorter list than last year after the accession of Croatia to the EU.

Albania: Candidate status

The EC concluded that Albania made good progress on its path towards EU integration, notably by adopting measures identified as essential for granting candidate country status and by continuing to deliver reforms against the key priorities of the Commission’s 2010 opinion. Albania took initial steps towards improving the efficiency of investigations and prosecutions in the fight against organised crime and corruption. The 2013 parliamentary elections were conducted in an overall smooth and orderly manner.

“In view of this, the European Commission recommends that Albania be granted EU candidate status on the understanding that Albania continues to take action in the fight against organised crime and corruption.”

In order to be able to move to the next stage and open accession negotiations, Albania needs to meet further key priorities, with particular focus on administration reform, the rule of law and fundamental rights. Constructive and sustainable political dialogue will remain essential for a successful reform process, the EC said.

Bosnia and Herzegovina: Very limited progress

Bosnia and Herzegovina has made very limited progress in addressing the political criteria towards accession, the EC said.

“A shared vision by the political representatives on the overall direction and future of the country, or on how it should function, remains absent.”

Despite intensive facilitation efforts by the EU, the country’s political representatives could not agree on a solution to implement the European Court of Human Rights judgment in the Sejdić-Finci case regarding discrimination against citizens on grounds of ethnicity. Addressing this judgment remains key for the entry into force of the Stabilisation and Association Agreement and for a credible application for EU membership, the EC said.

No progress has been achieved either on establishing an effective co-ordination mechanism on EU-related matters between various levels of government.

“Such a co-ordination mechanism is essential to enable the representatives of Bosnia and Herzegovina to speak on behalf of their country and to commit when interacting with the EU,” the EC said.

Macedonia: Deja vu

Macedonia was the first country to sign a Stabilisation and Association Agreement with the EU and has been a candidate country since 2005.

In the package the Commission concluded that the country continues to sufficiently fulfil the political criteria for EU membership and recommended, for the fifth consecutive year, that negotiations should be opened.

Montenegro: Progress made, and needed

The EC concluded that Montenegro has made further progress in establishing a functioning market economy, has improved its ability to take on the obligations of EU membership, and continues to sufficiently meet the political criteria.

The screening meetings have been completed. Two negotiating chapters have been opened and provisionally closed. The accession negotiations have integrated the new approach for the chapters 23 (judiciary and fundamental rights), and 24 (justice, freedom and security). Montenegro adopted Action Plans for both.

On this basis, Montenegro was invited to send its negotiating position on these chapters, which it submitted in early October. The implementation of the action plans will determine the overall pace of the negotiations.

Montenegro will need to further develop its track record in this area, in particular with respect to high-level corruption and organised crime, the EC said.

Serbia: Normalisation of ties with Kosovo essential

The Commission concluded that Serbia sufficiently fulfils the political criteria. Continued visible and sustainable progress in the normalisation of relations with Kosovo, including the implementation of agreements reached so far, will remain essential.

“Serbia will also have to sustain over time the reform momentum in the key areas of the rule of law, particularly judicial reform and anti-corruption policy, independence of key institutions, media freedom, anti-discrimination policy, protection of minorities and business environment,” the EC said.

Kosovo: Historic year

The EC also produced a report on Kosovo, as has happened before, although the EU is “status neutral” on whether the country is independent or not, given that a minority of EU countries do not see Kosovo as independent.

The EC concluded that 2013 has been a historic year for Kosovo on its path to the European Union. Kosovo has been committed to the EU facilitated dialogue with Serbia and delivered on important policy reforms identified in the 2012 feasibility study.

The EU appreciated these efforts by agreeing to start negotiations on a Stabilisation and Association Agreement with Kosovo, the EC report said.

The Commission underlined the necessity to keep normalising relations with Serbia and to continue building an inclusive Kosovo. Further efforts are needed for Kosovo to meet the challenges of its European reform agenda in view of the Stabilisation and Association Agreement. The priority areas include the rule of law, judiciary, public administration, electoral reform and the Assembly, human and fundamental rights, protection of minorities, trade and internal market issues, and phytosanitary and veterinary issues.

Kosovo has moved towards establishing a functioning market economy. At the same time, considerable reforms and investments are needed to enable Kosovo to cope over the long term with competitive pressure and market forces. In particular, Kosovo needs to improve its business environment, support the private sector and address structural weaknesses in the labour market so as to reduce unemployment.

Kosovo has made progress in preparing for the negotiations on the Stabilisation and Association Agreement. It completed the restructuring of the Ministry for Trade and Industry and finalised an impact analysis in view of the negotiations on the trade related aspects of the Stabilisation and Association Agreement. Kosovo has also taken steps to prepare for the agricultural census. In a wide range of technical areas, the required legislation is in place. Kosovo is ready to start the negotiating process.

Further efforts are needed to focus on the implementation of the legal framework in particular in the areas of trade, competition and the internal market. Kosovo needs to enhance its efforts in the fight against the illegal trade and slaughter of animals. It needs to strengthen the controls at livestock markets and to improve business statistics, food safety and phytosanitary controls. In the energy sector, efforts to decommission the Kosovo A power plant need to be stepped up.

(Photo: Sébastien Bertrand)



The Sofia Globe staff

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