The European Commission has made a number of changes to this year's enlargement package, compared to previous years.
First, unlike in previous years when a new strategy paper was adopted each year, the Commission has adopted an overarching strategy on enlargement policy covering the period of its mandate. It confirms the "fundamentals first" approach, highlights the importance of regional cooperation and the connectivity agenda, and addresses the current refugee crisis.
Second, the Commission has further strengthened the basis for its assessment in the annual country reports. In addition to reporting on progress:
- much more emphasis is put on the state of play in the countries and where they stand in terms of actual preparedness for taking on the obligations of membership;
- the reports provide even clearer guidance for what the countries are expected to do in both the short and long term. The package highlights what it is the candidates have to do to fully meet EU requirements and sets out clear recommendations on what the countries should focus on in the year ahead.
These changes will increase transparency of the process and facilitate greater scrutiny of reforms by all stakeholders, including civil society. Reporting will be more harmonised, with clear assessment scales. This will also allow for greater comparability between the countries in key areas.
The strengthened reporting focuses on current political priorities and weaknesses in the enlargement countries, which are closely related to the fundamentals. Accordingly, it is primarily applied, as a pilot exercise, in the following areas:
- rule of law and fundamental rights (judiciary, fight against corruption, fight against organised crime, freedom of expression);
- economic development;
- public administration reform;
- three "acquis" chapters (public procurement, statistics, financial control).
How is each country assessed?
One assessment is provided for state of play and another for progress in each of the pilot areas. These assessments are based on a careful analysis of the situation, with particular emphasis on implementation and track records of concrete results in each area. Accordingly, implementation and track records are given more weight than legal alignment and institutional framework in the overall assessment.
Both the state of play and the level of progress are assessed according to a five-tier standard assessment scale.
The scale used for state of play is as follows:
Early stage – Some level of preparation - Moderately prepared - Good level of preparation - Well advanced
The scale used for assessing progress in the past 12 months is as follows:
Backsliding – No progress – Some progress – Good progress – Very good progress
Are these novelties here to stay?
The Commission will draw lessons from the pilot approach applied this year and reflect on further possible adjustments in the following years. It will also examine the possibility of further expanding the recalibrated approach to other areas in future reports, taking into account both the need for an appropriate pace of reforms and the administrative capacities of the enlargement countries. In any case, the fundamentals will remain the main focus of work for the next years.