The European Commission has proposed this Wednesday to grant the EU candidate status to Bosnia Herzegovina. The Community Executive has adopted its 2022 enlargement package, which includes an assessment of the situation and the progress made by the Western Balkans and Turkey on their respective paths towards the European Union, in particular on the implementation of fundamental reforms, and with guidance on future reform priorities.
Thus, Brussels recommends that the 27 grant Bosnia Herzegovina candidate status, “with the understanding that a series of measures are taken to strengthen democracy, the functioning of state institutions, the rule of law, the fight against corruption and organized crime, guarantee freedom of the press and migration management in the country”, affirms the European Commission, which says it will continue “supporting reform efforts and will accelerate the integration of the Western Balkans as a whole”.
It is now up to the Council – the governments – to consider the Commission’s recommendations and decide on the next steps.
The EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs, Josep Borrell, said: “We are infusing a positive dynamic into the process and we hope that the region will seize the opportunity and follow up by implementing key reforms. The brutal Russian invasion of Ukraine highlights the importance of EU enlargement, which takes on a new geopolitical significance. It is a long-term investment in peace, prosperity and stability for our continent.”
The Commissioner for Neighborhood and Enlargement, Olivér Várhelyi, stated, for his part: “The European Union’s enlargement policy is a geostrategic investment in peace, stability, security and socioeconomic growth. The recommendation to grant candidate status is a historic moment for the citizens of Bosnia Herzegovina. I urge the country’s leaders to seize this opportunity and move swiftly on the steps identified in our recommendation.”
In the case of Montenegrin, “must intensify its efforts to address outstanding issues, including key areas of freedom of expression and freedom of the press and the fight against corruption and organized crime and the credibility of the judiciary. This requires political stability and constructive engagement from all stakeholders, leading to the establishment of a stable government and a broad political consensus in Parliament on key reforms,” says Brussels.
“Serbia should establish a Government firmly committed to the strategic direction of the EU and the path of reform”, states the European Commission “More work and political commitment are needed to continue and deepen the reforms and address the shortcomings, in particular in the key areas of the judiciary, the fight against corruption and organized crime, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly and the internal handling of war crimes. Serbia also needs to improve its alignment with the EU’s foreign and security policy as a matter of priority. It must also firmly tackle all forms of disinformation.”
As to Albanian Y North Macedonia, which are in a new phase in their relations with the EU after the first intergovernmental conferences on accession negotiations on July 19, 2022, “must intensify their efforts in key areas of the rule of law, the fight against corruption and the fight against organized crime. Albania also has to address property rights, minority issues and freedom of expression.”
In June 2022, EU leaders expressed their readiness to grant candidate country status to Bosnia Herzegovina and invited the Commission to report on the implementation of the 14 key priorities, with particular attention to those that constitute a substantial set of reforms. “Despite the political turmoil and the upcoming general elections, the leaders of the political parties represented in the BiH Parliamentary Assembly in June 2022 committed to the principles to ensure a Bosnia Herzegovina moving forward on the European path. Compliance with the 14 key priorities of the Commission’s opinion on the country’s application for EU membership will make it possible to recommend the opening of EU accession negotiations”.
According to Brussels, “Kosovo needs to intensify its efforts to strengthen democracy, public administration, the rule of law and fight corruption. The Commission maintains its evaluation of July 2018, which Kosovo has fulfilled all visa liberalization benchmarks and the proposal, still pending in the Council, must be dealt with as a matter of urgency. Regarding the normalization of relations, although both Serbian As Kosovo have continued to participate in the Dialogue, the EU hopes that both sides will engage more constructively in the negotiations on the legally binding normalization agreement in the coming period and show flexibility to achieve quick agreements and concrete progress.”
“In the area of democracy, the rule of law and fundamental rights, Turkey needs to reverse the negative trend as a matter of priority by addressing the weakening of effective checks and balances in the political system”, assesses Brussels: “The dialogue on the Rule of law and fundamental rights remains an integral part of the EU-Turkey relationship. The facts that led to the assessment that Turkey’s accession negotiations have effectively stalled remain in place.”
Brussels recalls that the “European Council has repeatedly reaffirmed its strategic interest in a stable and secure environment in the Eastern Mediterranean and in the development of a cooperative and mutually beneficial relationship with Turkey. However, the situation in the eastern Mediterranean has become more tense. Turkey must respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all EU Member States.”
Brussels adds: “Turkey’s continued policy of not aligning with restrictive measures against Russia is worrying due to the free movement of products, including dual-use goods, within the EU-Turkey Customs Union. Turkey must also take decisive steps to improve alignment with the EU’s foreign and security policy, including EU sanctions, and avoid actions that run counter to both countries’ stated goal of joining the EU.”
“Turkey remains a key partner for the European Union in essential areas of common interest, such as migration, the fight against terrorism, the economy, trade, energy, food security and transport,” says the European Commission: “Turkey has facilitated the dialogue between Russia and Ukraine and has played a key role in the grain export agreement, although it has also decided to increase trade and financial relations with Russia.”