Brussels, 10 October 2012
Commission outlines next steps for EU enlargement
Today the European Commission recommends for a fourth time to open accession negotiations with the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. It recommends granting EU candidate status to Albania subject to completion of key reform steps, and proposes negotiating a Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) with Kosovo*1 once it has made progress in fulfilling a number of short term priorities. The Commission also confirmed that Croatia 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, 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. These positive developments in the Western Balkans send a strong signal of the transformative power of EU enlargement. To advance further, the Commission proposes to increase focus on a number of areas. Firstly, strengthening democratic governance by starting to address rule of law issues well before accession negotiations begin. Secondly, strengthening freedom of expression and independence of the media. Thirdly, 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.
Common interests between the EU and Iceland, including in the field of renewable energy and climate change, are growing, as is the strategic importance of the EU's Arctic policy. Accession negotiations are progressing well. .
The positive agenda, launched to reinvigorate relations with Turkey, is already delivering its first results. 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.
For detailed findings and recommendations on each country see Memos:
Bosnia and Herzegovina: MEMO/12/764
Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia: MEMO/12/766
CROATIA: acceding country - applied in 2003, signed its accession treaty in December 2011. Today's comprehensive monitoring report concludes that Croatia is completing its alignment with EU law. The Commission has nonetheless highlighted a number of areas where more efforts are required. It will present a final monitoring report on Croatia's preparations in spring 2013. 13 member states ratified the accession treaty by end of September 2012; following the completion of the ratification process, Croatia should become a member state on 1 July 2013.
TURKEY: candidate - applied in 1987. Accession negotiations started in October 2005; 13 chapters are opened of which 1 provisionally closed. The Commission launched in May 2012 a positive agenda to reinvigorate the accession process. More efforts are needed on political reforms, in particular freedom of expression.
ICELAND: candidate - applied for membership in 2009. Accession negotiations started in June 2010; 18 chapters have been opened of which 10 are provisionally closed. As Iceland is already a member of the EEA and the Schengen area, a large part of its legislation is already aligned with that of the EU.
MONTENEGRO: candidate - applied in 2008. Accession negotiations were opened in June 2012. The technical phase, the "screening" of Montenegro's level of alignment with EU law, is ongoing.
THE FORMER YUGOSLAV REPUBLIC OF MACEDONIA: candidate - applied in 2004. The country continues to sufficiently fulfil the political criteria. Further positive results have been achieved, and the High Level Accession Dialogue has led to a sharper focus on reforms in the past year. The Commission already recommended in 2009, 2010 and 2011 that accession negotiations be opened. The Council has not yet taken a decision on this. The Commission believes that a decision to open accession negotiations would also contribute to creating the conditions to finding a solution to the name issue.
SERBIA: candidate - applied in 2009 and obtained candidate status in March 2012. Serbia continues on its way to sufficiently fulfilling the political criteria. The momentum of reform needs to be reinvigorated and further progress made towards a visible and sustainable improvement of relations with Kosovo before the Commission can confirm that accession negotiations can begin.
ALBANIA: potential candidate - applied in 2009. Improved dialogue between government and opposition has allowed good progress on substantial reforms. This leads the Commission to recommend candidate status subject to completion of key measures in the areas of judicial and public administration reform, and parliamentary rules of procedures being revised. The Commission will report to the Council once this is done, also taking into account Albania's commitment to fight corruption and organised crime. For the Commission to recommend opening accession negotiations, in particular sustained implementation of reform commitments and completion of the remaining key reforms will be needed, and the conduct of the 2013 parliamentary elections will be a crucial test.
BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA: potential candidate - has a European perspective like the rest of the Western Balkans. Following the 2010 elections, the country has formed a state-level government. The launch of the high level dialogue with Bosnia and Herzegovina was positive but results so far remain below expectations. More work is needed to meet the conditions allowing for SAA ratification and a credible membership application.
KOSOVO: potential candidate – Has a European perspective like the rest of the Western Balkans. The EU-facilitated dialogue between Pristina and Belgrade was launched in March 2011. Today's Kosovo study provides a positive assessment of the feasibility of a Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) in a situation where EU Member States maintain different views on the status of Kosovo.
The documents can be found at:
Anca Paduraru (+32 2 296 64 30)
Peter Stano (+32 2 295 74 84)
* This designation is without prejudice to positions on status, and is in line with UNSCR 1244/99 and the ICJ Opinion on the Kosovo declaration of independence.