EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fuele suggested on Friday that the European Commission might recommend later this year that the EU launches accession talks with some of the Balkan countries.
(Various sources -- 10/06/11 - 13/06/11)
Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia are all aiming for eventual EU membership. [Reuters]
The European Commission's (EC) announcement on the completion of Croatia's accession talks and its recommendation for the country's July 2013 EU entry has sent a positive signal to other countries in the region, Bulgaria said on Friday (June 10th).
"This success proves that systematic reform efforts and implementation of the membership requirements pay off," Vessela Tcherneva, the Bulgarian foreign ministry's spokeswoman, said in Sofia, hailing Brussels' decision. "Croatia assumed an exemplary status for the rest of the countries in the Western Balkans … EU enlargement politics is the most potent means for strengthening and increasing the prosperity of our region."
Aside from Croatia, six other Western Balkan countries -- Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia -- also hope to join the EU one day. But they are all at different stages of the accession process.
Macedonia and Montenegro have been recognised as official EU candidates -- in December 2005 and December 2010, respectively -- but neither has been given a starting date for its membership talks.
Following former Bosnian Serb military commander Ratko Mladic's arrest last month, Serbia now expects to also be granted a formal candidate status by the Union by the end of this year. Furthermore, it hopes that a decision to that effect will be accompanied by an announcement of the date of the official launch of its entry talks with the EU.
"We hope that on December 9th a consensus will be reached for Serbia to become an EU candidate state and that a date for negotiations will be defined," Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Bozidar Djelic said Friday. "I hope that in spring 2012 the negotiations will formally start."
The biggest and still insurmountable obstacle on Macedonia's Euro-Atlantic integration path with the EU and NATO is its long-running name dispute with Greece.
Montenegro and Serbia need to show progress in the implementation of reforms required by the EU, especially of their justice systems. Belgrade must also catch former Croatian Serb political leader Goran Hadzic, the last remaining war crimes suspect sought by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), and extradite him to The Hague. Full co-operation with the UN tribunal is a key condition for Balkan countries hoping to join the EU.
"Hadzic will be arrested soon," Serbian President Boris Tadic said at a meeting of his Democratic Party's steering committee on Sunday. "Serbia is determined to finish that co-operation because of itself and because of reconciliation in the region," Belgrade-based daily Blic quoted him as adding.
In addition, Serbia needs to play a constructive role in its EU-brokered talks with Kosovo, as well as show that it is able to normalise relations with its former province as much as possible.
In a special statement on the conclusion of Croatia's entry talks, EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fuele said on Friday that the EC "might propose" to the bloc's leaders later this year that Serbia be recognised as an official candidate for membership of the bloc. The commission might also recommend the opening of accession talks with Macedonia and other Balkan countries, he added.
Albania submitted its application for EU membership in April 2009, but has not been recognised as an official candidate yet. The latest big step BiH made on the accession road was the signing of its Stabilisation and Association Agreement and an interim trade accord with the EU in summer 2008. Internal political divisions in both countries have prevented them from making much headway on the path towards eventual membership over the past two years.