EU foreign ministers accepted Iceland's application for membership in the bloc Monday, leaving some in the Balkans to wonder about their prospects.
(Euobserver, Wall Street Journal, Irish Times, B92, Emportal, Makfax - 29/07/09; AFP, Reuters, FT, BBC, Fena, Swedish EU presidency - 27/07/09; FT, Fena - 26/07/09)
Iceland's application has raised some concern among EU aspirants in Southeast Europe. [Getty Images]
Reiterating their support for the Western Balkan countries' prospects of joining the EU, the foreign ministers of the 27-nation bloc promised on Monday (July 27th) to consider Albania's application for membership as soon as possible.
The EU hopes "to give a new impetus to the European integration process in the Western Balkans" in the coming months, Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, whose country currently holds the rotating EU presidency, said after the talks in Brussels.
His remarks came after fellow foreign ministers agreed to accept Iceland's formal application for bloc membership and to forward it to the European Commission (EC) for assessment.
The North Atlantic island of about 300,000 people is already a member of the European Economic Area, which means that its laws are in line with two-thirds of EU legislation, EU Commissioner for Enlargement Olli Rehn said on Monday.
He noted however that Iceland will not be put on a faster track to membership; rather, its bid "will be treated by the book".
Analysts believe that in the event of a positive EC assessment of Iceland's application, Brussels is likely to launch accession talks with Reykjavik next year. Under that scenario, the country could then join the bloc in the latter half of 2011 at the earliest.
Several EU foreign ministers, including Bernard Kouchner of France and Alexander Stubb of Finland noted that the fact that Iceland faces economic pressure following its bankruptcy last year is no excuse for a preferential treatment.
"It would be a political error to put Iceland before the Balkan countries," Kouchner said at a news conference in Brussels.
Analysts have cautioned about possible frustration among EU hopefuls in the Balkans, should newcomer Iceland make quick progress towards bloc membership.
For example, Croatia's membership talks, which should be completed by the end of this year under the country's EU roadmap, have been blocked since December due to its border dispute with Slovenia.
Macedonia has been awaiting a start date for its negotiations with Brussels since December 2005, when it was granted formal recognition as an EU candidate. Greek Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis indicated on Monday that Athens would continue blocking the opening of entry talks with Skopje until the two countries resolve their long-running name dispute.
Stalled reforms have prevented Bosnia and Herzegovina from making headway along its European integration path.
Aside from its difficulties with Kosovo, Serbia needs to arrest and hand over former Bosnian Serb military commander Ratko Mladic to the UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague to make progress on its road to accession.
Montenegro's formal application for EU membership, which was submitted in December, was accepted and forwarded to the EC for examination in April.
That same month Albanian Prime Minister Sali Berisha handed in his country's official application during a visit to Prague. The EU had warned that it wouldn't accept it unless Albania's June 28th parliamentary elections were deemed free and fair.