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News 06 Feb 18

EU’s New Balkans Enlargement Strategy Demands Reforms

The European Commission’s new enlargement strategy offers support for Albania, Bosnia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia - but insists they must step up reforms and fully embrace EU values if they hope to join.

Filip Rudic
BIRN
Belgrade
Presentation of the Strategy in Strasbourg. Photo: Elyxandro Cegarra/Beta

The European Commission launched its new enlargement strategy for the Western Balkans on Tuesday, offering help for all six EU aspirant states but insisting that all the membership hopefuls implement reforms and make a clear commitment to the “fundamental values” of the European bloc in return.

“All the Western Balkan countries must now urgently redouble their efforts, address vital reforms and complete their political, economic and social transformation,” the strategy document says.

It says that the six countries have “a historic window of opportunity to firmly and unequivocally bind their future to the European Union”.

But it also makes it clear that the EU sees the offer of potential membership as a “powerful tool to promote democracy, the rule of law and the respect for fundamental rights” in the Balkans.

“Joining the EU is far more than a technical process. It is a generational choice, based on fundamental values, which each country must embrace more actively, from their foreign and regional policies right down to what children are taught at school,” it says.

The strategy singles out Montenegro and Serbia as the current front-runners in the enlargement process.

“With strong political will, the delivery of real and sustained reforms, and definitive solutions to disputes with neighbours, they could potentially be ready for membership in a 2025 perspective,” it says.

However, it adds that this perspective is “extremely ambitious” and will depend on each country’s progress.

Albania and Macedonia are making significant progress and the Commission is ready to prepare recommendations to open accession negotiations if conditions are fulfilled, the strategy says.

It also says it will start considering Bosnia and Herzegovina’s membership application after it gets answers to its questions from Sarajevo.

“With sustained effort and engagement, Bosnia and Herzegovina could become a candidate for accession,” it suggests.

The strategy suggests Kosovo could progress by implementing its Stabilisation and Association Agreement with the EU and then “advance on its European path once objective circumstances allow.

However, it stresses that a comprehensive, legally binding normalisation agreement between Belgrade and Pristina is “urgent and crucial so that Serbia and Kosovo can advance on their respective European paths”.

The strategy includes six flagship initiatives ranging from initiatives to strengthen the rule of law, reinforced cooperation on security and migration through joint investigating teams and the European border and coast guards, expanding the EU Energy Union to the Western Balkans, and lowering roaming charges and rolling out broadband in the region.

“I will travel to each of the countries of the Western Balkans at the end of this month with a clear message: keep reforming and we will keep supporting your European future,” said the president of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker.

The strategy also calls for regional cooperation, good neighbourly relations and reconciliation, noting that the process of securing justice for the victims of the wars of the 1990s is incomplete.

“There is no place in the EU for inflammatory rhetoric, let alone for glorification of war criminals from any side,” it says, adding that the leaders of the region must condemn statements or actions which fuel ethnic tension.

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said that the Western Balkans shares the same history, cultural heritage, opportunities and challenges as the rest of Europe.

“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,” she said at the presentation of the strategy.

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