Accession and Pre-Accession:

Updated 3 January 2012

 

Despite of the current situation in Europe and some reluctance by current Member states and many European citizens, after having accepted Bulgaria and Romania without adequate preparation (some say), the enlargement process is still alive. Croatia will become the 28th Member state on 1st July 2013, and the next to Join will be Iceland. On the other hand, Turkey and several Western Balkan states keep on negotiating, but Member states are still divided on granting new candidate status.

 

At the end of June substantial negotiations with Iceland were formally launched. Half the remaining chapters have been opened in the second half of 2011, including fisheries and agriculture, the most difficult ones. Most progress is expected on ten chapters (out of 33), fully in line with the EU acquis due to Iceland’s membership of the European Economic Area. The most demanding chapters are fisheries, agriculture and regional policy. Another obstacle to overcome will be the referendum that has to be organized once the negotiations are over. According to pools, 53% of Icelanders say that negotiations should continue, and only 35% want the country to join the Union.

 

The Polish Presidency received the task to finalize the draft of the Accession Treaty for Croatia, concluding all remaining legislative work, in order to be ready for signature at the end of 2011. So, the 18-months ratification process can be launched at the beginning of the Danish Presidency (beginning of 2012), running on the Cypriot (second half of 2012) and achieving its final phase during the Irish Presidency (first half of 2013). EU leaders have set 1st of July 2013 as the target day for Croatia’s Accession to the EU. If tasks are accomplished in these deadlines, the Republic of Croatia will become the EU’s 28th Member State. The EU will use a special pre-accession mechanism to monitor Croatia’s performance to meet its commitments, particularly on justice and competition. Thus, on 14th September, the COREPER approved the English version of the Croatian Accession Treaty, which was signed on 9th December in Brussels during the EU Council, where Croatia was invited in a very symbolic initiative by EU leaders, after six years of negotiations. Croatia has also announced a referendum on accession, which will take place in February. On 1st December, the European Parliament had approved Croatia’s accession, shortly before General Elections (4th December). There is a 61% of support for EU membership in Croatia and the process has been concluded quite smoothly. On the other hand, the Treaty foresees a special monitoring mechanism to make sure that, by the date of the accession on 1st July 2013, Croatia has implemented all remaining obligations. The first monitoring report is expected to be published by the Commission in October 2012. During 18 months, the EU will monitor the progress in three main areas: competition, judiciary and home affairs, as well as border management and preparation for Schengen accession. During that same period, Croatia also has to conclude a border arbitration agreement with Slovenia.

 

The Polish Presidency wanted other Western Balkan countries to go one step further to the EU. Three countries (Montenegro, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Serbia) were in the best position, but still need the Commission’s green light, as core challenges remain.

 

One of the key conditions for Serbia’s EU accession is the improvement of relations with Kosovo. A bilateral dialogue was launched last March in order to seek solutions for practical problems. A first set of three agreements were finally reached on 2 July in Brussels on the freedom of movement, civil registry and acceptance of university and school diplomas. Next set of agreements will probably tackle telecoms, cadastre records, custom stamps and energy. The EU, however, has urged Kosovo to continue necessary reforms, particularly on the fight against corruption and organised crime, as well as on the rule on law.

 

On 25 July, the government of Kosovo sent a police unit to take over two border crossings in Northern Kosovo in order to halt the import of goods from Serbia. Next day, clashes between local population and Kosovo police force in one of the border crossings left one officer dead and several wounded. One day later, the border crossing was firebombed and run over by bulldozer. Kosovo officers had to flee and the KFOR (NATO peacekeeping force) had to take over control of the area. The EU urged both parties “to defuse the tensions, restore the calm and security, and return to dialogue”. After the escalation of tensions in the North of Kosovo (inhabited mainly by minority Serbians) the dialogue resumed on 2nd September with a Kosovo-Serbia agreement on border stamps. These tensions have jeopardized the process to grant accession status to Serbia, despite of the arrest of the two remaining war criminals. German Chancellor Merkel stated that Serbia needs to meet three conditions: renewed dialogue with Pristina, allow EULEX (EU police mission) to operate in the whole territory of Kosovo and abolish parallel structures in the North. Two disputed border crossings (Jarinje and Brnjak) were blocked by several dozen Kosovo Serbs with trucks since 15th September provoking a tense but calm atmosphere. However, KFOR soldiers were attacked when they tried to remove the blocks. Violent clashes with KFOR led to the collapse of the EU-mediated talks between Belgrade and Pristina, and the cancellation of a meeting between the two parties scheduled for 28th September. This new escalation of ethnic tensions seemed to be triggered by joint Kosovo-EU-NATO efforts to reassert Kosovo’s authority in the region, which is de facto controlled by Belgrade.

 

On 12th October, the Commission recommended granting candidate status to Serbia and proposed the opening of accession talks as soon as further steps are taken to normalize relations with Kosovo. On 22nd November Belgrade and Pristina agreed on the mutual recognition of university diplomas and on keeping on talking (with EU mediation) to normalize bilateral relations, especially on integrated border management. Anyway, problems reappeared, as German soldiers were injured during a NATO operation while tearing down Serbian barricades in the North of Kosovo on 28th Nov ember. On 5th December, Serbs started removing these barricades in order to convince the EU of their readiness to meet the accession criteria, but the European Council on 9th December postponed their decision until next summit in March 2012.

 

Other countries in the Western Balkan region in line for EU membership (Montenegro, FYROM, Albania, Kosovo and Bosnia) are not expected to advance in the process by now.

 

  • The Commission has recommended opening negotiations with Montenegro, but France and Germany have proposed to delay the talks until June 2012.
  • Freedom of expression is still an issue in the FYROM.
  • Albania and Bosnia-Herzegovina have been labelled as laggards in the Balkans due to their prolonged political and institutional stalemate. The particular case of Bosnia is continuing delayed because of the refusal to cooperate by the three Bosnian communities (Bosniaks, Serbs and Croats). There is also a generational divide, with younger Bosnians less prone to compromise that the older ones. Their continuing disagreement to recognise Kosovo’s independence causes additional problems.

 

Prospects for Turkey are not very much promising, due to Ankara’s failure to normalise relations with Cyprus. 14 chapters have been blocked by the Commission (2006) or Cyprus (2009). Another four were frozen by France. Only three chapters are free from political blocking, but they require very complex reforms: competition, public procurement and social policy and employment. The Commission has urged Turkey to solve the conflict with Cyprus and demanded “the avoidance of any kind of threat, source of friction of action that could damage good neighbourly relations and the peaceful settlement of disputes”. Other bilateral issues affecting this are the Greek complaints on violation of territorial waters and airspace. Commissioner Füle has stressed the very important role of Turkey in the region and announced the Commission’s intention to enhance the cooperation with Turkey “in support of their efforts to pursue reforms and align with the acquis, including chapters that cannot be opened for the time being”.

 

Turkey applied for EU membership in April 1987 and officially started negotiations in October 2005, at the same date as Croatia, which signed its Accession Treaty on 9th December. During the last eighteen months, Ankara has failed to open any new chapters in its accession negotiations. Turkey is the 16th largest economy in the world and the 6th in Europe. The OECD has estimated that it will be the second highest growing country after China by 2017. 85% of all global investments in Turkey and 92% of investments made in the first half of 2011 have come from EU member countries. Furthermore, it is an easy access point to natural and energy resources and to global markets, especially including the large markets of the Balkans, Eurasia, the Middle East and North Africa.

 

After the European Council on 9th December, Turkish officials have argued against the unfair treatment they have received during the EU accession negotiations. It seems not be acceptable for Turkey the EU criticisms on freedom of expression, visa, migration, the Cyprus issue and the developments in the Eastern Mediterranean region.

 

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