The European Commission announced it has adopted a strategy for the enlargement of the European Union with six countries of the West Balkan. These are Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, FYROM, Montenegro and Serbia.
The new strategy for the Western Balkans holds out the prospect that two countries from the region, Serbia and Montenegro, could “potentially” be ready to join the EU by 2025. It also offers increased support for the four other would-be members from the region that was engulfed by war and civil strife in the 1990s.
At the same time it makes clear to the governments of these EU members in spe that they will have to get much more serious about establishing the rule of law, cutting out corruption, cracking down on organized crime, settling bilateral disputes and undertaking a range of other democratic changes.
European Commission statement
The European Commission on 6 February adopted a strategy for ‘A credible enlargement perspective for and enhanced EU engagement with the Western Balkans’, as announced by President Juncker in his 2017 State of the Union address. The Strategy confirms the European future of the region: “It is a clear path for the Western Balkans, all our six partners in the Western Balkans, to finally join the European Union”, said HR/VP Mogherini.
The Strategy spells out the priorities and areas of joint reinforced cooperation, addressing the specific challenges faced by the Western Balkans countries. Sustained efforts and irreversible reforms in crucial areas such as the rule of law, fundamental rights, the fight against corruption and organised crime, as well as economic reforms will be required for a credible enlargement perspective. All countries must unequivocally commit to reconciliation and solving open issues well before accession to the European Union. A comprehensive, legally-binding normalisation agreement between Serbia and Kosovo will be essential for progress on their respective European paths.
The European Union’s commitment to the region EU integration perspective was confirmed through the announcement by the Commission of six flagship initiatives with specific actions that the EU will take over the coming years to support the transformation efforts of the Western Balkans in areas of mutual interest. These flagship initiatives target specific areas of common interest: rule of law, security and migration, socio-economic development, transport and energy connectivity, digital agenda, reconciliation and good neighbourly relations. The Strategy also underlines the need for the EU to be prepared to welcome new members once they have met the criteria.
The European future of the region is a geostrategic investment in a stable, strong and united Europe based on common values. EU High Representative Mogherini quoted a series of examples of interlinkages with the region ranging from the cooperation during the refugee crisis to economic interconnections where “we see how much our people benefit from any opportunity we have of working together”.
The EU is the most important donor and investor in the region as well as primary political partner of the Western Balkans. The EU is also the Western Balkans’ largest trading partner with an annual total trade volume of €43 billion (2016). Montenegro and Serbia have started the accession negotiations. The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Albania are candidate countries. Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo are potential candidates.
All six partner countries of the Western Balkans have a clear path to finally join the European Union, EU High Representative Mogherini said today announcing the new Strategy for ‘A credible enlargement perspective for and enhanced EU engagement with the Western Balkans’ adopted by the European Commission. Sustained efforts and reforms are still needed, but it is clear that integration is in the interest of the people of the EU and Western Balkans.