Enlargement strategy 2005: roadmap for the Western Balkans
The Commission takes stock of the political and economic situation in the candidate countries Croatia and Turkey, and in the potential candidate countries in the Western Balkans (Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia and Montenegro, and Kosovo)
Commission Communication of 9 November 2005, Enlargement Strategy Paper [COM(2005)561 - Not published in the Official Journal].
For each country the Commission sums up the progress made and the work that remains to be done. It recalls the terms of the accession and pre-accession strategies.
The Commission's approach towards enlargement is based on three lines of action:
- Consolidation of the commitments taken by the Union: the Union has to ensure it can maintain its capacity to act and decide according to a fair balance within its institutions. The Commission stresses that future enlargements will go at the pace dictated by each country's performance in meeting the standards, to ensure the smooth absorption of new members.
- Applying fair and rigorous conditionality: the Union has to demand fulfilment of the accession criteria and duly reward countries that make progress. Accession negotiations or any stage in the accession process may be suspended if these criteria are not met.
- An improvement in the way enlargement policy is being communicated: the Union must make every effort to obtain wide public support for its enlargement policy. It needs to improve its communication about the objectives, challenges and terms of the enlargement process and present a clear strategy for the future. This must be a common and coordinated effort with the Member States. The Commission intends to organise a dialogue with civil society both in the present Member States and in the candidate countries in order to improve the debate.
TURKEY AND CROATIA
The Commission sums up the progress made in relation to the Copenhagen criteria:
- Political criteria: the political transition started in Turkey has slowed down somewhat in 2005. Considerable efforts have to be made in relation to fundamental freedoms and human rights. The reform process must be integrated better into the work of all public authorities. On the whole, Croatia meets the political criteria for accession. However, more needs to be done to reform its judicial system, fight corruption, improve the position of minorities and facilitate the return of refugees.
- Economic criteria: the Turkish and Croatian economies can be regarded as functioning market systems, capable of dealing with market forces within the Union.
- Incorporation of the Community acquis: more needs to be done to adopt and implement the acquis. Both countries need to reinforce their administrative and judicial capacity so that Community rules are effectively applied once they are introduced into national legislation.
The Union started accession negotiations with Turkey and Croatia in October 2005. In 2006 it intends to evaluate the implementation of the Additional Protocol to the Ankara Agreement, the signing of which made it possible to start negotiations with Turkey. Negotiations with Croatia are conditional on its full cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in the action it has taken subsequent to the war in the former Yugoslavia.
The Council sets out the method and guiding principles of the negotiating framework. The negotiations will keep pace with the progress of each country. They can be suspended in case of serious and persistent violations of human rights, fundamental freedoms or the rule of law. The Commission may also propose their suspension if it finds that a candidate country no longer meets its obligations or criteria under the association agreements. It has lent active support to the political reform process in Turkey and Croatia and proposes Accession Partnerships reflecting the main priorities identified in the Progress Reports.
Specific arrangements may be established where the acquis is concerned. The screening of every area of legislation started in October 2005 should be finished in the autumn of 2006. The screening is intended to explain the Union's rules and to study each country's plan to adopt and implement the acquis. After each chapter has been screened, the Union decides, on a proposal from the Commission, whether it can be opened or what benchmarks need to be met in advance.
Croatia is already eligible for the financial pre-accession instruments (Phare, ISPA and SAPARD) and, from 2005/2006, will also qualify for the CARDS regional programme. Financial assistance amount to EUR 105 million for 2005 and EUR 140 million for 2006. Croatia can also participate in Community Programmes. Pre-accession financial assistance for Turkey amounts to EUR 300 million in 2005 and EUR 500 million in 2006.
The Commission examines the situation in Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, and Serbia and Montenegro, including Kosovo.
The overall political situation is improving, but considerable challenges remain. The Commission pays particular attention to structural weaknesses. It considers that the functioning of the democratic institutions is generally improving but that the countries need to intensify reform efforts and develop an independent civil service which can manage the Europe integration process.
In spite of the reforms under way, judiciaries generally remain weak and lack independence. Reform of police services needs to continue and the countries' anti-corruption strategies need to be redefined and updated. The Commission notes clear progress in cooperation with the ICTY by Bosnia and Herzegovina and by Serbia and Montenegro. A significant number of indictees have been transferred. However, full cooperation has still not been achieved.
Increasing regional cooperation is important for further stabilisation and reconciliation. To achieve this, the Commission suggests reforming the Balkans Stability Pact by gradually transferring its main functions to the region.
Macroeconomic stability in the region has increased. However, the current account deficit (movement of goods and services and investment income flows between these countries and third countries) remained too high and structural reforms progressed unevenly. In order to establish functioning market economies, the Western Balkan States need to ensure further liberalisation and privatisation and introduce appropriate regulatory frameworks and structures of corporate governance.
Pre-accession strategy and roadmap
The Commission insists on the principle of conditionality, i.e. the idea that every Western Balkan country may become a member of the Union if it meets the conditions. The negotiations will keep pace with the implementation of reforms in each country.
As potential candidates these countries are already eligible for certain types of EU aid: access to Community programmes, trade preferences for their products and assistance in meeting the Union's standards.
Accession will proceed according to the roadmap:
- Negotiations for a Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) cannot be started unless the country involved is sufficiently stable. The Commission will then draw up a feasibility report and recommend that the Council start negotiations.
- An SAA prepares a State for future accession by introducing Community rules in various fields. The signing of an SAA is proof that a country is capable of deepening its relationship with the Union. Two SAAs have been signed to date: one with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and one with Croatia. Albania is finalising such an agreement, Serbia and Montenegro has entered into negotiations and Bosnia and Herzegovina is preparing to.
- After concluding an SAA, a country may apply for membership. On the basis of the Commission's opinion, the Union may decide to grant the applicant country candidate status and politically recognise the close relationship it has entered into with that country.
- The candidate country needs to reach a sufficient degree of general compliance with the Copenhagen criteria before accession negotiations can be opened. The Commission regularly reports on progress. On the basis of the Commission's recommendation the European Council decides on the opening of negotiations and lays down the framework to be approved by an intergovernmental conference.
The candidate countries will be guided in their efforts by European partnerships setting the priorities and imposing specific measures to be implemented. They must present their action plans accordingly and integrate these priorities into their internal political programme. EU assistance to the Western Balkans in carrying out the partnership measures amounts to EUR 539 million.
This summary is for information only and is not designed to interpret or replace the reference document.