Balkan Progress Slow, EU Commission Says


news
07 Oct 14

Balkan Progress Slow, EU Commission Says

Upcoming EU Progress Reports on the Western Balkan countries will say each of the countries has much to do – though some are clearly making more progress than others.

Nektar Zogjani
BIRN

Brussels

A senior EU source said the European Commission Progress Reports for 2014 on the Western Balkans, due out on Wednesday, would mainly highlight failings in the fields of the rule of law, corruption, fundamental rights such as freedom of expression as well as threats to the independence of the media.

Each of the countries concerned will have a lot of work to do in order meet the EU criteria and so continue on the path to membership, he said.

“Stefan Fuele’s successor will have a lot of things to do in his mandate” he said, referring to the outgoing Enlargement Commissioner and his successor, Austria’s Johannes Hahn.

Each year, the Commission issues individual reports on the Western Balkan states alongside its Enlargement Strategy Paper, which charts the way forward for the coming year.

Starting with politically divided Albania, the source said a culture of cooperation needed to be rebuilt between the opposition and the ruling parties.

In neighbouring Kosovo, he said the stalemate in parliament since the last general elections, which has prevented the election of a speaker and the formation of a new government, is another area of concern.

Kosovo is due to sign the Stabilization and Association Agreement, for which talks started in October 2013 – the first stage towards eventual EU membership.

Turning to Kosovo’s external relations, the same source said the report will urge the governments of Kosovo and Serbia to become more engaged in the EU-led dialogue on the normalization of ties, both in terms of implementing already reached agreements and also in opening new topics.

Turning to Macedonia, the source said its upcoming Progress Report will not suggest that Brussels withdraw the Commission’s longstanding recommendation that Macedonia start membership talks with the EU, as some have predicted.

However as the official noted, “this was a bad year for Macedonia”, referring to the opposition boycott of parliament among other matters.

The official said that although Montenegro was continuing to make progress, the country still had work to do. Already in the phase of negotiations to join the EU, Montenegro needs “to speed up reforms, especially those dealing with the rule of law”, the EU source said.

Ethnically divided Bosnia and Herzegovina remains the biggest source concern. Little political – or economic – progress was made there over the last year, which was “very worrying”, the official noted.

Another EU official, who also did not wish to be named, noted that none of the western Balkans countries was seen as a likely member in the short term.

“None of the countries have made enough progress to join the EU in the next five years,” this source said.

Croatia was the last country in the region to join the European club, after joining as the 28th member in July 2013. The former Yugoslav republic of Slovenia joined much earlier, in 2004.

Montenegro and Serbia are considered the next in line in the region, as both have started membership negotiations.

Besides rule of law issues, the sources said the EU reports would express concern over such areas as fundamental rights, like freedom of speech and media independence.

The sources said the reports would note that some governments in the region are more or less openly interfering in the media, fostering a climate of fear and self-censorship.

Source: Balkan Insight (Montenegro)