CoR: Small but positive edge for Western Balkans

CoR: Small but positive edge for Western Balkans
Nefeli Tzanetakou reporting from Brussels

The European Committee of the Regions backs the EU strategy aimed at enabling the accession of Western Balkan countries into the bloc, that is about to begin in 2025.

The EU's assembly for local and regional politicians stressed though that the EU must make itself "stronger and more stable" before countries from the region can join the Union.

The success of the EU's enlargement to the Western Balkans will heavily depend on local and regional governments' greater involvement in the EU accession process.

The CoR drew up recommendations at the request of the Bulgarian EU Presidency and ahead of a debate on enlargement at the EU summit in May, and adopted the proposals after a debate on March 22 with Johannes Hahn, the EU Commissioner for European Neighbourhood Policy & Enlargement Negotiations.

The European Commission's strategy and action plan set out on February 6 aims to "create a completely new dynamic that will see Serbia and Montenegro meet the membership criteria by 2025" and should encourage other countries – Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia – to accelerate reforms.

Johannes Hahn emphasised that the pace of accession negotiations will depend on the implementation of reforms, in particular, in the rule-of-law area.

"I am convinced that strengthening capacities at local and regional administration and government levels in the Western Balkans countries has a positive impact on a country’s development as they are essential when it comes to implementing the EU acquis at the local and regional level. Therefore I highly value the work of the Committee of Regions in this regard," he said.

Karl-Heinz Lambertz, President of the European Committee of the Regions, said: "The EU should always be open to welcome in new members if and when they are ready. Currently, this means significantly stepping up progress on local-government reform in candidate countries so that cities and regions are given substantially greater powers and capacity. Importantly, they must be fully aligned not only with all EU values, but demonstrate that they are upholding the rule of law and meeting fiscal rules The 2025 accession date for Serbia and Montenegro is ambitious but possible if the pace of reform significantly picks up and if local authorities are given a greater say in the EU accession process."

The strategy is scheduled for adoption by EU member states this June.

In his opinion, Franz Schausberger, representative of Salzburg Province, underlined that strengthening local and public administrations will be "absolutely essential" if integration is to be a success. He said:  "The European Commission has suggested that 2025 is a plausible target date for Serbia and Montenegro to join the EU. That will require a commitment and speed that we have not seen to date. The volume of EU law is huge, and cities and regions will need to implement about 70% of it. At the moment, they are not ready for that. They need stronger powers, better training, greater transparency, more money, greater dynamism, and a sharper focus on providing services to citizens."... / IBNA

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