Brussels, 10 November 2015
2015 enlargement package
In a set of annual reports adopted today, the European Commission has assessed where the countries of the Western Balkans and Turkey stand in preparingto meet EU membership requirements, and sets out what needs to be done to address the remaining challenges.
Presenting the annual Enlargement Package, Commissioner Johannes Hahn said: “The current refugee crisis shows how crucial close cooperation between the EU and the countries in south-east Europe is. The EU enlargement process, covering the Western Balkans and Turkey, is a powerful tool to strengthen the rule of law and human rights in these countries. It also boosts the economy and promotes regional cooperation. A clear European perspective gradually transforms our partner countries and strengthens stability around our Union. Our firm commitment to EU enlargement, and to the conditions it involves, is therefore a long-term investment in Europe’s own security and prosperity”.
The region has been seriously affected by the refugee crisis. Turkey is providing substantial support to more than 2 million Syrian refugees on its territory. The Western Balkans, in particular the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Serbia, have managed a substantial amount of third country nationals transiting their countries since the beginning of the year.The migration challenge makes more than ever a case for increased cooperation with enlargement countries, and the EU is providing substantial support to this end.
Fundamentals key to stability
In its enlargement strategy, the Commission reaffirms the strong focus on the principle of “fundamentals first” in the accession process. Core issues of the rule of law, fundamental rights, strengthening democratic institutions, including public administration reform, as well as economic development and competitiveness remain key priorities. Progress is being made, in particular with the adoption of relevant legislation and establishment of necessary administrative structures. However, across the board effective implementation is very often lacking. The Commission will continue to focus its efforts on ensuring that countries prioritise reforms in these key areas and establish a track record.
State of play
While there has been important progress over the past year, major challenges remain. With respect to the rule of law, judicial systems are not sufficiently independent, efficient or accountable. Serious efforts are still needed to tackle organised crime and corruption, in particular to establish track records of investigations, prosecutions and final convictions. While fundamental rights are often largely enshrined in law, shortcomings persist in practice. Ensuring freedom of expression is a particular challenge, with negative developments in a number of countries. Public administration reform needs to be pursued with vigour, to ensure the necessary administrative capacity as well as to tackle high politicisation and a lack of transparency. The functioning of democratic institutions also requires attention. There is a need to work even more closely with local civil society actors to anchor reforms across society.
Most countries face significant challenges in terms of economic governance and competitiveness. Economic development is crucial for job creation and growth and increasing the interest of investors. The Commission has put particular emphasis on regional cooperation and boosting regional economic development and connectivity. Important progress has been achieved here, notably through the “Berlin process” and the “Western Balkans Six” format. The Commission also stresses the need for good neighbourly relations and overcoming bilateral disputes.
The Commission has introduced this year a strengthened approach to its assessments of the fundamentals and the related acquis chapters. The overarching enlargement strategy is now multiannual, covering the period of the Commission’s mandate. In addition to reporting on progress, much more emphasis is put on the state of preparedness fortaking on the obligations of membership. At the same time, the reports provide even clearer guidance for what the countries are expected to do in both the short and long term. Harmonised assessment scales are used, increasing comparability between the countries, and improving transparency of the accession process. This should facilitate greater scrutiny of reforms by all stakeholders.
More on the new approach: What’s new in the 2015 enlargement package?
The current enlargement agenda covers the countries of the Western Balkans and Turkey. Accession negotiations have been open with Turkey since 2005 but are moving forward only slowly. Accession negotiations have been underway with Montenegro since 2012 and with Serbia since 2014. The EU accession process with the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia – a candidate country since 2005 – remains at an impasse. Albania was granted candidate status in 2014 and is addressing a number of key priorities before the Commission can recommend the opening of accession negotiations. A Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) with Bosnia and Herzegovina entered into force in June. An SAA with Kosovo was signed in October 2015.