The latest EU reports praise the western Balkan countries' progress towards European integration, while noting remaining challenges in rule of law, economy and media.
By Drazen Remikovic for Southeast European Times in Podgorica -- 21/10/13
Despite controversy among Kosovo Serbs about the November 3rd election, Kosovo and Serbia are working together for a successful election that will help both countries' accession plans. [AFP]
The European Commission progress reports for the western Balkan countries gave citizens and officials much to cheer about. The commission concluded that all of the regional countries, save for Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), have made considerable progress on the road to EU integration.
"The EU obviously wants the entire Balkan region to finally be a peaceful area, to finally unite and to see all conflicts forgotten," Predrag Simic, political analyst and professor at Faculty of Political Sciences in Belgrade, told SETimes after the report was presented October 16th.
In the reports, Montenegro's constitutional changes adopted in July, aimed at strengthening the independence of the judiciary, received high marks. And as in previous years, Montenegro received praise for its relations with its Balkan neighbours.
"The EC will propose opening negotiations in six chapters by the end of this year because Montenegro has made progress in public procurement, company law, intellectual property rights, information society and media, tax policy, entrepreneurship and industrial policy," the EC said.
The commission praised Serbia's political will to solve problems and improve relations with Kosovo, and emphasised the need to implement and observe the Brussels Agreement, as well as to continue the reform process, particularly in the judiciary.
"This is quite a success for this government and the most positive report and assessment Serbia has ever gotten in the European integration process," Serbia Prime Minister Ivica Dacic told reporters.
Experts think that the EU is sending a positive signal to Serbia, and the entire region, through the reports.
"It is clear that this government will meet all the demands of the European Union. There is no dilemma there anymore," Simic said.
The commission also recommended granting candidate country status to Albania, noting the country's progress on its path towards EU integration.
"The successful accomplishment of the June 23rd parliamentary elections was the main achievement that led the commission to decide to grant candidate country to Albania. The European Council will take into account the recommendation of the commission and will analyse the assessment of the member countries on Albania's progress in fighting corruption and organised crime [at its December meeting]," Gledis Gjipali, executive director of European Movement Albania, told SETimes.
Macedonia received its fifth recommendation to start accession negotiations with the EU. The unsolved name dispute with Greece is the main issue preventing the talks from beginning.
All of the western Balkan countries, with the exception of Bosnia and Herzegovina, were praised for their progress towards EU accession. [Drazen Remikovic/SETimes]
Greece blocked Macedonia's EU membership for the past four years, saying that the country must change its name because its current one implies a territorial claim on the Greek region also called Macedonia.
"Opening accession talks with the EU can only contribute in promoting Macedonian-Greek relations and overcoming the differences. We wish that our first inter-governmental conference on the accession talks could be held during the coming Greek presidency of the EU," Macedonia Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski said on receiving the new report.
The commission noted that while other countries in the region are progressing towards Europe, BiH's efforts have stagnated.
By not implementing the judgment of the Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, also known as the Sejdic-Finci case that concerns minority rights, BiH failed to meet the key obligation under its roadmap for 2012, the EC said.
"Nothing is new when it comes to BiH. There is no internal consensus on major state issues and politicians blame each other for the failure. Instead of consensus, we have nationalism. As for the other Balkan countries, the region is set on entering in EU as the main goal of its policy. And Brussels recognised that in every country except in BiH," Milos Solaja, professor at the Faculty of political Science in Banja Luka and director of the Centre for International Relations, told SETimes.
The reports also highlighted problem areas in each country, mainly in the rule of law, economic and media sectors.
"Certain steps forward can be seen in all countries, but each state has its own sore points," Svetozar Jovicevic, an independent political analyst and former deputy prime minister of Montenegro, told SETimes.
The commission said that while Montenegro continues to meet the political criteria for membership in the EU, corruption remains prevalent in many areas.
"All countries suffer from corruption, have their own political problems and situations. Montenegro has the bankruptcy of [aluminum plant] KAP, attacks on journalists. Serbia has the problem of Kosovo, Macedonia has the problems with Greece ... and Brussels says that all of this needs to be solved if you want to enter the EU," Jovicevic said.
Corruption remains a problem in most of the western Balkan countries, the commission said. [AFP]
For Kosovo, the commission report highlighted shortcomings in the country's rule of law and in the fight against organised crime and corruption.
"Anti-corruption legislative framework is largely in place, but the main issue of concern remains the implementation of the legal and policy frameworks. Co-operation among the agencies involved continues to be weak," the report said.
In June, the EU Council authorised opening stabilisation and accession agreement talks between the EU and Kosovo. Negotiations started this month, and EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fule said the negotiations could end by spring of 2014.
Political dialogue, judiciary independence, election reforms and freedom of speech were noted as weak points in Macedonia. Skopje officials said they will look closely at the remarks in the following days and will develop an action plan to address these weaknesses.
"The government will thoroughly study and analyse the commission's report. The remarks, comments and recommendations will be a road map for the government in its future activities in the accession process, and they will be drafted into concrete measures when we conduct the regular yearly update of the program to adopt the legal framework of the EU," Gruevski said.
But despite the work that needs to be done, the region remains committed to European integration.
"The states are competing over who will be better on the road to the EU, and it is a good practice. Brussels is slowly emphasising the concrete problems that need to be solved. I think this time, besides politicians, even citizens can be pleased with these positive assessments," Momcilo Radulovic, president of the European Movement in Montenegro, told SETimes.
Correspondents Erl Murati in Tirana, Biljana Lajmanovska in Skopje and Bojana Milovanovic in Belgrade contributed to this report.
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