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EU's eastward march slows down

Posted by Nick Prag at 09 October 2014, 16:25 CET |

Autumn is traditionally the time for the European Commission's annual strategy paper for enlargement. In a set of annual reports adopted this week, it explained EU policy on enlargement, and assessed progress made over the past year by countries wishing to join the EU in the Western Balkans and by Turkey, and the challenges ahead.

Enlargement Commissioner Stefan FuleStefan Fule, presenting the reports, was keen to stress in particular how important Turkey is as a strategic partner for the European Union, especially in the need to work more closely in key areas such as fighting the so-called 'Islamic state'.

However, there is a long history between the EU and Turkey, and the Commission report also expressed new human rights concerns, and the rule of law continues to demand much scrutiny.

The other countries in the report include Albania, Bosnia, the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia, Kosovo and Montenegro.

Progress is mixed, with Montenegro progressing in its accession negotiations, and the opening of accession talks with Serbia being a turning point in its relations with the Union. Process with the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia however remain at an impasse, particularly with regard to political dialogue in the parliament.

Albania, granted candidate status in June as recognition for its reform efforts and progress, is urged to build on and consolidate the reform momentum.

Bosnia and Herzegovina remains at a standstill on its European integration path. And Kosovo needs to deliver on key reforms, in particular the rule of law.

One of Jean-Claude Juncker's first policy promises, made in a speech leading up to his confirmation vote for the Commission presidency in the European Parliament, was that the Union would freeze expansion over the next five years.

"The EU needs to mark a pause in its enlargement process so that we can consolidate what has been done with 28," Juncker said.

What the reports show is that the pace of enlargement has slowed, and prospects for Balkan neighbours also in talks such as Albania, Montenegro and Bosnia-Hercegovina are uncertain.

The EU is, it appears, in a consolidation phase with regard to continuing negotiations with potential candidates for EU membership.

The Commission is keen to stress that, while this may be a phase of consolidation, there is no standstill and no let-up in continuing to work closely with neighbourhood countries – as indeed will any negotiations with the countries.

Negotiations continue notably with the western Balkans countries, which Mr Juncker says “need a European perspective", as does progress on strengthening partnerships with countries on the EU's eastern border, such as Ukraine and Moldova, caught up in the continuing crisis with neighbouring Russia.

The emphasis continues on three ;pillars', the rule of law, economic governance and public administration reform.

And the EU continues to support the neighbourhood countries and candidates and potential candidates, with the Commission recently making available details on how it will deploy EUR 11bn for countries in the western Balkans and Turkey for the next seven years.

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Nick Prag

Nick Prag

Nick Prag is founder and managing editor of Prior to EUbusiness, he was senior editor at Europe Online SA in Luxembourg, where he played a major part in the launch of Europe Online International.