The European Commission put forward a proposal to drive forward the EU accession process, especially for Western Balkans. EU needs to be more credible, with a stronger political steer, more dynamic and predictable, claimed Commissioner for Neighbourhood and Enlargement, Olivér Várhelyi.
The Commission hopes the Member States will endorse the proposal, in parallel with the opening of accession negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania, ahead of the European Union-Western Balkans Summit in Zagreb on 6-7 May. For the summit the Commission will consider how to bring forward investment, socio- economic integration and the rule of law for the Western Balkans region.
Both the European Commission and the European Parliament have recommend opening accession talks with North Macedonia and Albania. But Emmanuel Macron has been the major stumbling block. Now Commissioner for Neighbourhood and Enlargement, Olivér Várhelyi tries to give a new way into EU enlargement.
EU must make it clear what we mean and what it is that we offer!
Commissioner for Neighbourhood and Enlargement, Olivér Várhelyi, commented: “The European Union enlargement to the Western Balkans is a top priority for the Commission. We are working on three tracks: Firstly, today we propose concrete steps on how to enhance the accession process. While we are strengthening and improving the process, the goal remains accession and full EU membership. Secondly, and in parallel, the Commission stands firmly by its recommendations to open accession negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania and will soon provide an update on the progress made by these two countries. Thirdly, in preparation of the EU-Western Balkans Summit in Zagreb in May, the Commission will come forward with an economic and investment development plan for the region.”
Press conference of Olivér Várhelyi, European Commissioner, on the revised enlargement methodology.
Enhancing the accession process
A credible EU perspective for the Western Balkans
A more credible process: The accession process needs to build on trust, mutual confidence and clear commitments by the European Union and the Western Balkans. Credibility should be reinforced through an even stronger focus on fundamental reforms, starting with the rule of law, the functioning of democratic institutions and public administration as well as the economy of the candidate countries. When partner countries meet the objective criteria, the Member States shall agree to move forward to the next stage of the process, respecting the merits-based approach.
A stronger political steer: The political nature of the accession process requires a stronger political steer and engagement at the highest levels. The Commission proposes to increase the opportunities for high level political and policy dialogue, through regular EU-Western Balkans summits and intensified ministerial contacts. Moreover, Member States should be involved more systematically in monitoring and reviewing the process. All bodies under Stabilisation and Association Agreement will focus much more on the key political issues and reforms, while Inter-Governmental Conferences will provide stronger political steering for the negotiations.
A more dynamic process: To inject further dynamism into the negotiating process, the Commission proposes to group the negotiating chapters in six thematic clusters: fundamentals; internal market; competitiveness and inclusive growth; green agenda and sustainable connectivity; resources, agriculture and cohesion; external relations. Negotiations on each cluster will be open as a whole – after fulfilling the opening benchmarks – rather than on an individual chapter basis. Negotiations on the fundamentals will be open first and closed last and the progress on these will determine the overall pace of negotiations. The timeframe between opening a cluster and closing the individual chapters should be limited, preferably within a year fully dependant on the progress of the reforms. Reforms are crucial for Western Balkans.
A more predictable process: The Commission will provide greater clarity on what the EU expects of enlargement countries at the different stages of the process. It will make clearer what the positive consequences progress on reforms can bring, and what will the negative consequences will be when there is no progress.
To encourage demanding reforms, the Commission will better define the conditions set for candidates to progress and will provide clear and tangible incentives of direct interest to citizens. Incentives could include accelerated integration and “phasing-in” to individual EU policies, the EU market and EU programmes – while ensuring a level playing field – as well as increased funding and investments.
The more candidates advance in their reforms – especially Western Balkans -, the more they will advance in the process. Equally, the Commission proposes more decisive measures proportionally sanctioning any serious or prolonged stagnation or backsliding in reform implementation and meeting the requirements of accession process. Negotiations could be put on hold in certain areas, or in the most serious cases, suspended overall, and already closed chapters could be re-opened; benefits of closer integration, like access to EU programmes, could be paused or withdrawn, and the scope and intensity of EU funding could be adjusted downward.
Montenegro, Serbia and Turkey
Accession negotiations must be concluded before a new Member State can join the European Union. Accession negotiations are currently ongoing with Montenegro, Serbia and Turkey. Negotiations have also been opened with Iceland, but are currently on hold.
Negotiations take place between ministers and ambassadors of the EU governments and the candidate country in what is called an intergovernmental conference.
The first phase entails rigorous screening of the candidate country’s legislation; negotiations then proceed methodically through the range of EU legislation, which the candidate country must adopt, implement and enforce. Negotiations also extend to other rights and obligations that all Member States must accept – these are known as the Community acquis.
The political and economic reforms carried out by the candidate country are monitored and assessed regularly, and the pace of negotiations is determined by the results. Only when all parties are satisfied does the process conclude with the signing and ratification of an Accession Treaty.
EU money for Western Balkans
During the process of accession negotiations, candidates and potential candidate countries can receive support through the Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance (IPA). This includes a number of cross-border programmes with EU Member States, which closely mirror the functioning of the structural funds.