EU Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighbourhood Policy
Enlargement Package 2012
Press conference, Brussels
10 October 2012
For the third time I present the Enlargement package, a regular assessment of the challenges in the enlargement process and progress achieved by individual countries.
This year, the package has a different look: you will find horizontal issues, followed by conclusions and recommendations about the countries.
At a time when the EU faces major challenges and significant global uncertainty, enlargement policy continues to contribute to peace, security and prosperity on our continent. The progress by several Western Balkan countries sends a strong signal of the transformative power of enlargement.
It is important that the European Union remains open to those on our continent that want to apply to become part of our common democratic project built on our shared values.
Enlargement responds to the legitimate aspirations of the peoples of our continent to be united in a common democratic project.
The credibility of the process is crucial to its success: it is about partners delivering on their reform commitments (based on strict but fair conditionality), and the EU honouring its commitments.
In our Strategy Paper, we have identified the key challenges for enlargement and we explain how they can be met in order to maintain the momentum of reforms and of enlargement.
We therefore focus on:
First, putting the rule of law at the centre of enlargement policy, which is also the theme of the 2012 enlargement package, with the emphasis on strengthening good governance, judicial reform, fighting corruption and organised crime. Our aim is to ensure through the negotiations process that the reforms in these areas are irreversible. We also continue to prioritise strengthening freedom of expression in the accession process.
Second, we also stress the importance of regional cooperation and reconciliation in the Western Balkans. It is crucial to address bilateral issues, normalising relations, closer regional cooperation and good neighbourly relations. Bilateral issues should not hold up the accession process.
And thirdly - on economic challenges: we focus on the need to consolidate economic and financial stability, tackling economic criteria earlier in process. As the EU undergoes far-reaching changes to its economic governance, we will inform, involve and associate enlargement countries in the process.
And now to individual countries
- Croatia: we present a Comprehensive Monitoring report on its preparedness for EU membership. Croatia has continued to make progress in adopting and implementing EU legislation and is now completing its alignment with the EU rules and norms.
But today's report highlights ten concrete tasks where Croatia has to deliver before accession. This concerns in particular the areas of competition policy, judiciary and fundamental rights and justice, freedom and security. For Croatia this is the final lap: but it is essential that the country completes its preparations on time so that this can be reflected in next spring's final monitoring report.
- Montenegro: continues sufficiently to meet the political criteria. We opened negotiations in June, the screening process has begun and is expected to finish next summer. The negotiations will integrate the new approach for the chapters on judiciary and fundamental rights 23, and justice, freedom and security 24, thereby reinforcing the focus on the rule of law and on the irreversibility of the undertaken reforms. Montenegro will need to further develop a track record on the rule of law, especially in fight against organised crime and corruption.
- the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia: continues to meet sufficiently the political criteria. The HLAD has served as a catalyst for accelerating reforms and contributed to substantial progress. We need to show that the European Union perspective for the country is real. The Commission recommends for the 4th time opening of negotiations. We believe that moving the country to the next stage is necessary in order to keep the pace of reforms, lessen the risk of any reversal in the reform process and to strengthen the inter-ethnic relations in the country.
Maintaining good neighbourly relations is essential; a solution to the name dispute needs to be found without delay. Opening negotiations would contribute to creating the conditions conducive to finding such a solution. The Commission is ready to present a proposal for a negotiating framework, which also takes into account the need to solve the name issue at an early stage of accession negotiations.
- Serbia: continues on its way to sufficiently fulfilling the political criteria and the conditions of the Stabilisation and Association Process. The momentum of reforms needs to be re-invigorated. Serbia needs to pay particular attention to the rule of law (judicial reform), to the independence of key institutions (Central Bank) and to continuing its constructive engagement in regional cooperation and relations with neighbours.
A visible and sustainable improvement in relations between Serbia and Kosovo is needed so that both can continue on their respective paths towards the EU, while avoiding that either can block the other in these efforts. This process should gradually result in the full normalisation of relations between Serbia and Kosovo with the prospect of both able to fully exercise their rights and fulfil their responsibilities within the EU.
As for the start of accession negotiations, the Commission will present a report as soon as it will have assessed that Serbia has achieved the necessary degree of compliance with the membership criteria, in particular the key priority of taking steps towards a visible and sustainable improvement of relations with Kosovo.
- Albania: has made good progress towards fulfilling the political criteria for membership thanks to the improved dialogue between the government and opposition. The country has delivered on a number of substantial reforms covered by the 12 key priorities. The Commission recommends granting candidate status subject to key measures in the areas of judicial and public administration reforms being completed and the parliamentary rules of procedure being revised.
We will issue a report as soon as the necessary progress has been achieved. In this report we will also assess the further efforts of Albania in the fight against corruption and organised crime. In order to be able to move to the next stage and open accession negotiations, Albania will have in particular to demonstrate sustained implementation of commitments already undertaken and completion of the remaining key priorities which have not been yet met in full. The focus should be on the rule of law and fundamental rights. Sustainable political dialogue will remain essential for a successful reform process. The conduct of the 2013 parliamentary elections will be a crucial test in this regard and a pre-condition for any recommendation to open negotiations.
- Bosnia and Herzegovina: regrettably, has made limited progress towards meeting the political criteria and achieving more functional and coordinated institutional structures. Results of the High Level Dialogue remain below expectations. A shared vision among the political representatives on the overall direction and future of the country and its institutional set-up remains absent. Meeting the conditions for the entry into force of SAA and for the credible membership application remains a matter of priority as does the establishment of an effective coordination mechanism on EU matters. The strong public support in Bosnia and Herzegovina for membership needs to be matched by the political will to reach this goal.
- Kosovo: was subject of a Feasibility Study for Stabilisation and Association Agreement. In this study we confirm that SAA can be concluded between the EU and Kosovo. Kosovo has put in place a stable institutional and legal framework necessary to start negotiating a SAA. The Commission will propose negotiating directives once Kosovo has made progress on a number of short term priorities that we have identified (rule of law, public administration, protection of minorities, trade) .
A visible and sustainable improvement in relations between Kosovo and Serbia is needed so that both can continue on their respective paths towards the EU, while avoiding that either can block the other in these efforts. Addressing the problems in northern Kosovo, while respecting the particular needs of the local population, will be an essential element of this process.
- Turkey: we have many common interests: it is a key country for the EU. It is in our mutual interest that accession negotiations regain their momentum, notably also to allow the EU to remain the benchmark for Turkey's reforms. We will continue with the Positive Agenda to revive the accession process, building on the first results achieved and maintaining the fresh dynamism it has brought to our relations.
The Commission recommends the resumption of work on negotiating chapters which has been interrupted over the recent years because of the lack of consensus amongst Member States. In our report, we welcome positive developments such as the participative work on a new Constitution and improvements in the Turkish criminal justice system introduced through the 3rd judicial reform package.
On the other hand, concerns are growing regarding the lack of substantial progress towards fully meeting the political criteria. The situation regarding the respect for fundamental rights in practice, incl. freedom of expression, continues to be a source of serious preoccupation. We welcome the commitment of the Turkish government to resolve these concerns through the 4th judicial reform package, which I hope will be submitted to Parliament swiftly.
We reiterate our serious concerns with regard to Turkish statement and threats about the rotating Presidency of the Council and we call on Turkey to fully respect the role of the Presidency.
- Iceland: continues to fully meet the political criteria and is well advanced in its preparations for EU membership. Accession negotiations are progressing well and are entering into a decisive phase. EU accession remains an issue of lively public debate in Iceland. The Commission is confident that we will be able to present a package for negotiations which takes Iceland´s specificities into account and safeguards the principles and acquis of the EU, allowing also, in due course, for a fully informed decision of the Icelandic people.
With this year's package we have shown that as the EU moves in a new direction, deepening its integration, the enlargement process will require more efforts than ever before, to reach out and engage partners. It will mean hard and permanent work and innovative approaches as we adapt to the rapidly changing architecture of the European Union. But all of this has one ultimate goal – to be for the benefit of all the citizens of Europe.