The EU enlargement commissioner re-affirmed the Union's open-door policy for the Western Balkan countries.
By Linda Karadaku for the Southeast European Times in Pristina -- 29/09/12
EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fule. [Reuters]
The EU continues its open-door membership policy, Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fule told SETimes, but he warned that aspirants must fulfill all EU criteria and satisfy all conditions in order to be admitted.
"The pace at which each country advances to EU membership depends on it meeting the established criteria and conditions. Croatia is a good example and should act as an incentive: it shows what can be achieved when the necessary reforms are pursued and implemented," Fule said in an exclusive interview with SETimes.
Croatia will become 28th member of the EU in July 2013. Montegenro began accession negotiations in June, while Albania is attempting to meet the key priorities for a membership candidate status.
The EC has recommended opening accession negotiations with Macedonia three times, but Macedonia has not yet been given a date to start talks.
Positive relations with neighbours, a precondition for EU membership, is one of the main issues that Serbia needs to accomplish before EU accession, according to Fule.
"The EU wants Serbia to take steps toward a visible and sustainable improvement of relations with Kosovo," Fule said, adding that one such step is fully respecting the principle of inclusive regional co-operation.
"Belgrade's recent decision to stop insisting that the Kosovo footnote is featured on nameplates is a very welcome step, and the EU will be looking at its implementation in practice," Fule said.
The Union also demands that Serbia fully respect the provisions of the 2005 Energy Community Treaty -- committing the region to build an integrated energy market -- and find solutions for telecommunications.
Serbia's electrical power utility maintains a branch in the north of Kosovo, depriving Kosovo of its network and revenue there.
Telecommunications also must be one of the topics in the technical discussions between Kosovo and Serbia, together with the energy issues, according to Fule. "On these two issues, we need the dialogue to resume and deliver," he said.
Continuing to implement all agreements in good faith in the technical dialogue with Pristina is another issue, according to Fule. "Belgrade's signature of the protocol on integrated border management is still pending."
Finally, Serbia should co-operate actively with EULEX, which continues to have limited freedom of movement in the north of the country, due to opposition by local Serbs, who claim EULEX is taking the side of the Kosovo institutions.
A new round of Belgrade-Pristina talks should start, but the format, timing and scope of the dialogue are still under discussion with both Pristina and Belgrade, he said.
"We would want the dialogue to lead to a qualitative, visible and sustainable improvement in the relationship between Pristina and Belgrade; in short, normalisation. This means that all outstanding issues will need to be discussed," he said.
Regarding Kosovo's aspiration to be an EU member, Fule said the country needs to work actively on meeting the given benchmarks.
The benchmarks range from preventing and fighting organised crime, terrorism and corruption to protecting fundamental rights and freedoms -- including minority rights -- to border and migration management, official documents and data protection, and external relations.
"The sooner it does so, the quicker the people will share the benefit of visa-free travel, like the rest of the Western Balkans," Fule said.