The European Commission has presented its annual assessment of the European Union’s enlargement agenda. It comprises a 2010-2011 Strategy paper, the Opinions on the membership applications by Montenegro and Albania and seven Progress Reports on the potential candidate countries and on the candidate countries including Croatia. The progress reports and opinions for separate countries are summarized below.
The big news is, of course, Croatia. The Commission thinks that the negotiations are entering their final phase. There are some outstanding benchmarks, in particular in the field of judiciary and fundamental rights. The Commission notes that corruption remains prevalent in many areas. If everything goes normally, Croatia should conclude its negotiations somewhere in 2011, meaning a possible accession in 2013.
The Commission believes that Macedonia is ready to start negotiations once the name issue is resolved. One of the important recommendations is to strengthen administrative capacity for the implementation and enforcement of legislation. The Commission says that further efforts are needed in areas related to the political criteria, in particular as regards independence of the judiciary, fight against corruption, reform of public administration and freedom of expression in the media.
Accession negotiations with Turkey have advanced, albeit rather slowly. The main obstacles remain full implementation of Turkey’s Customs Union obligations with the EU, and making progress towards normalisation of relations with Cyprus. The Commission notes that the package of constitutional amendments approved in a referendum on 12 September created the conditions for progress in a number of areas, such as the judiciary and fundamental rights and public administration.
On Bosnia and Herzegovina, the conclusion is that the lack of a shared vision by political leaders on the direction of the country continues to block key reforms and further progress towards the EU. The role played by ethnic identity in politics has continued to hamper the functioning of the executive, the legislative and the judiciary as well as the country’s overall governance.
The Commission notes that in Serbia additional efforts are required regarding public administration reform and the fight against organised crime and corruption. Despite the active on-going cooperation of Serbia with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), the two remaining ICTY fugitives, Ratko Mladić and Goran Hadžić, are still at large. Serbia has further postponed the reforms to tackle structural shortcomings of the economy.
The Commission concluded that Montenegro is ready to become a candidate country to EU membership. Montenegro needs to effectively implement and enforce legislation in all fields. Main concerns are related to the following areas: effectiveness of anti-discrimination policies, freedom of expression and government relations with civil society, as well as the situation of displaced persons from Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo.
The Commission takes note of the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice, which concluded that Kosovo‘s declaration of independence did not violate general international law or Security Council resolution 1244 (1999) and the following resolution of the UN General Assembly that aims at opening the way for a process of dialogue between Pristina and Belgrade to promote cooperation, achieve progress on the path to the European Union and improve the lives of the people. However, the Commission notes that the judiciary is not functioning effectively in Kosovo. The rule of law remains a serious concern.
On Iceland, the Commission concluded that the country meets the political criteria for EU membership and, despite being hit hard by the banking crises, it is well prepared to undertake the pending measures needed to meet the requirements for EU membership.
Albania has made good progress during the last 12 months, but further reforms are needed in a number of key areas, before the country can be ready to start accession negotiations. The effectiveness and stability of Albania’s democratic institutions, notably the Parliament, is not sufficiently achieved. Political dialogue is confrontational and does not respect the democratic spirit, not least because of the political stalemate since the June 2009 elections.