EU enlargement package shows diverse progress

11/10/2012

The European Commission presented the annual progress report for the Balkan countries on Wednesday, which showed different rates of progress pace and remaining disputes.

By Safet Kabashaj for Southeast European Times in Pristina -- 11/10/12

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EU membership is becoming more defined for several regional countries. [Reuters]

EU Commissioner for Enlargement Stefan Fule presented the Enlargement Package 2012 on Wednesday (October 10th) in Brussels. The package included progress reports for five Balkan countries, Turkey and Iceland, as well as analytical reports on Croatia and Kosovo.

The commission recommended that Albania receive candidate country status, with conditions still to be met. The status is subject to the completion of key measures in the areas of judicial and public administration reform and revision of the parliamentary rules of procedure.

The recommendation will be reported to the EU Council of Ministers "as soon as the necessary progress has been achieved."

One of the things noted in the EC report was "the commitment demonstrated by Albania to fight corruption and organized crime, including by pro-active investigations and prosecutions of such cases."

Albanian Deputy Minister for Integration Grida Duma told SETimes that the decision did not come as a surprise to officials in Tirana, and they will undertake the needed reforms.

"The reform in the public administration is totally solvable, it is about building the human capacities … the one on the parliamentary reform, a small issue is under discussion, it is much less problematic than the issues handled so far," Duma said.

Another country moving forward on the accession path is Serbia -- the EC concluded that the country continues to fulfill the political criteria and the conditions of the Stabilisation and Association process.

"The momentum of reforms needs to be reinvigorated and visible and sustainable improvement in relations between Serbia and Kosovo is needed which should gradually result in the full normalisation of relations between Serbia and Kosovo," the commission said.

However, the report said, the country still needs to progress on one key priority.

"Visible and sustainable improvement in relations between Serbia and Kosovo is needed so that both can continue on their respective paths towards the EU," the EC said. "Addressing the problems in northern Kosovo, while respecting the territorial integrity of Kosovo and the particular needs of the local population, will be an essential element of this process."

Serbian Prime Minister Ivica Dacic said he was "upset" that Kosovo's territorial integrity was mentioned in EC documents.

"Instead of helping the beginning of the dialogue [with Pristina], this could close it. Perhaps it was fair to ask Serbia to recognise Kosovo's independence, but to recognise the integrity of the state …," Dacic said after receiving the report from the EU representative in Serbia,Vincent Degert.

As for Kosovo, the EC adopted the Feasibility Study for the country and confirmed that Kosovo is largely ready to open negotiations on a Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA).

Prime Minister Hashim Thaci welcomed the positive assessment.

"This is a green light for Kosovo to start the negotiations for the SAA, which is a major step in Kosovo's progress towards the EU," Thaci told his cabinet.

The commission will propose negotiating directives for the agreement once Kosovo has made progress in meeting short-term priorities. Thaci urged ministers to increase their commitment to fulfilling the remaining criteria.

Minister for European integration, Vlora Citaku, told journalists that short-term criteria set for Kosovo by the EC do not present an unachievable challenge.

"They are achievable and measurable criteria that we can meet for three to four months. Moreover many of them have already been passed by the government, such as the law for the confiscation of property, or secondary legislation. So, many requests submitted by EC are in the final stage," Citaku said.

Even it comes too late for Kosovo, the EC recommendation is a promising moment for the law graduate Kushtrim Hodaj, 28.

"Getting into contractual relations with the EU will dictate a better governance in Kosovo, as the institutions will be closely observed in further steps towards the EU integration," Hodaj told SETimes.

The commission recommended for the fourth time the start of accession negotiations with Macedonia, but the recommendation is different this year, making a direct link between the start of the negotiations and finding a solution to the ongoing name dispute that the country has with Greece.

"Getting this recommendation might not be a new thing for Macedonia, but the way this recommendation stands in this report and the whole atmosphere being created around Macedonia is very positive, maybe the most positive we had so far," Deputy Prime Minister in charge of Euro-integration Teuta Arifi told SETimes.

"What is important is to maintain this positive trend in our relations with the EU, and to continue our joint activities," she said.

Although Montenegro is the only country in the Balkans that started accession negotiations with the EU this year, the report sharply noted key problems in the country, including the fight against corruption and organised crime and a weak economy.

The EC said that Montenegro still sufficiently fulfills the political criteria, but said the country needs tangible results in the field of justice and the rule of law, particularly in the fight against corruption and high-level organised crime.

"This progress report is proof that Montenegro is on the right track and that EU recognize our efforts to identify necessary reforms and to implement it in order to adopt European standards," Montenegro Prime Minister Igor Luksic said.

He said the opening of negotiations between Montenegro and the EU has given a boost to the government to do more and better in the interest of all citizens.

"I am confident that we will join efforts, confirm Montenegro as a serious partner and that the success of Montenegro will be guiding for the other countries of the region on their way to the EU," Luksic said.

Momcilo Radulovic, secretary general of the European movement in Montenegro, said that the progress report is objectively capturing the image of the Montenegrin society.

"The general picture is positive and has an optimistic note, but the problems still persist, which will accompany us until we enter EU, " Radulovic told SETimes. "Main problems are related to the rule of law, the judiciary and the effective fight against corruption and crime. The absence of some strong tones came as a result of an impression of Brussels that they have good communication with Government in Podgorica. Everything will be clearer after we obtain the conditions to be fulfilled in order to essentially start negotiations, which are expected next year."

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In Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), almost no progress has been made, EU Special Representative Peter Sorensen said.

"We have seen a high level of rhetoric about EU integration -- but little action and few results have been delivered. This is very disappointing and means that Bosnia and Herzegovina has fallen further behind in the region. This needs to change, because there are clear tasks to be done," he said.

The commission concluded that BiH has made limited progress toward meeting the political criteria and achieving more functional, co-ordinated and sustainable institutional structures.

SETimes correspondents Linda Karadaku in Tirana, Igor Jovanovic in Belgrade, Nedjeljko Rudovic in Podgorica, Biljana Lajmanovska in Skopje and Ana Lovakovic in Sarajevo contributed to this report.

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
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