Will Western Balkans respond positively to EU initiatives?

Participation of Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the EC, at the Plenary session of the EP
Date: 06/02/2018 Location: Strasbourg – EP
© European Union , 2018. Photo: Etienne Ansotte

The European Commission announced yesterday its strategy regarding the perspective of EU enlargement with the Western Balkans within the next decade.  Six initiatives will be the guidelines of the EU which must be fulfilled in order to be able for these countries to complete the necessary steps for their accession process.

The EU seems to be willing to increase its member states the moment Britain is on the exit doorstep. This effort has started at President Juncker’s 2017 State of the Union address and it is now being materialized through concrete actions and plans pointing out that Montenegro and Serbia could complete their accession process by 2025 while the rest of the Western Balkans could also have the chance to join the EU path.

Background

Only two counties of the Western Balkans are in the way of accession talks to become members of the EU. Serbia has applied to become an EU member state in December 2009 and EU Candidate country status was granted in March 2012. Currently 12 out of the 35 negotiation chapters are open but two of them (science & research and education & culture) are preliminary closed. Montenegro applied for EU membership at the end of 2008 and after two years the candidate country status was granted.  At the moment, five years of accession negotiations have passed with 30 out of 35 chapters to have been opened and three of which to be provisionally closed (science & research, education & culture and external relations).

The rest of the Western Balkan counties have the chance of moving towards an EU perspective according to the EC but significant progress is required in order to start the negotiations talks.

EC supports Westerns Balkans accession procedure

The EC has changed its stance since 2014 when Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker had slowed down any enlargement perspective of the bloc at the beginning of its five-year term. Jean-Claude Juncker foresees a possible EU enlargement with the Western Balkans but on the condition that all necessary reforms are being implemented. More specifically, the president of the EC stated yesterday that: “Investing in the stability and prosperity of the Western Balkans means investing in the security and future of our Union. Although there will be no further enlargements under this mandate, today the European Commission is charting the European path ahead for the Western Balkans. With strong political will, real and sustained reforms, and definitive solutions to disputes with neighbours, the Western Balkans can move forward on their respective European paths. Whether this is achieved will depend on their objective merits. The European Commission will be rigorous but it will also be fair. I will travel to each of the countries of the Western Balkans at the end of this month with a clear message: keep reforming and we will keep supporting your European future.”

EU-Western Balkans transition strategy

The EU support is crucial for the accession process of the Western Balkans and especially of Montenegro and Serbia which are closer to the European path. Thus, the EC’s six flagship initiatives are created to support this procedure and help these countries into becoming EU member states. In detail, these actions are targeting to strengthen the rule of law, reinforce engagement on security and migration, enhance social and economic development, increase energy and transport connectivity, improve digital services and support reconciliation and good neighbourly relations between 2018 and 2020.

Except for the above initiatives, the EC has also proposed an increase in the financial aid under the Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance (IPA) until 2020. Particularly, the funding which is going to be distributed to the Western Balkans will be 1.07 billion euros in 2018 adding to the 9 billion euros provided in the period of 2007-2017.

Will EU become larger?

The EU, simultaneously with the Brexit process which affects the Old Continent to a great extent, focuses on increasing its member states by providing adequate support to the Western Balkans to implement comprehensive reforms in various fields in order to keep up with the EU values. High Representative and Vice-President Federica Mogherini mentioned that this plan is meant to solve the problems of the past and lead to a European path for the Western Balkans.

Specifically, Federica Mogherini said: “This strategy shows the path that we have ahead of us: for all our six partners to overcome once and for all the past, for all of us together to make the process of the Western Balkans towards the European Union irreversible and keep reuniting the Continent. This Strategy gives all of us a shared, clear, unequivocal, credible and concrete perspective for each and every one of our six partners’ EU integration.”

All in all, even if the EU will provide substantial support, it is mainly up to these countries to show that they really want to become part of the European Union by imposing all the necessary constitutional reforms.

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