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Credible enlargement perspective and continuation of intensive reforms

Credible enlargement perspective and continuation of intensive reforms
Published date: 06.02.2018 16:23 | Author: MEP

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The Strategy for the Western Balkans, presented today by the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini and EU Commissioner for European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations Johannes Hahn to the European MPs in Strasbourg, offers a credible enlargement perspective along with the continuation of intensive reforms in the region.

This Strategy has special significance for Montenegro since, for the first time it offers a time horizon and confirms the consistency in the position of the EU that the process remains fully founded on individual merits, and the continuation of the expert, technical and financial support in meeting obligations on the European path.

The Strategy points to the need for all states of the region to continue the implementation of comprehensive and convincing reforms in the key areas, rule of law, economic development, regional cooperation and reconciliation process, which Montenegro already recognised and in which it already accomplished visible results.

In her presentation of the Strategy to the European Parliament in Strasbourg Mogherini stated that the Western Balkans are already a part of Europe since they share the same history as the members of the European Union, the same cultural heritage, the same challenges, the same interests, the same opportunities, and that it was clear that they would share a common future inside the European Union.

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“We have seen a lot of reforms in the region with a determination that tells us all a simple truth: that the people of the Balkans and the leaders of the Balkans have made a clear choice - the choice of bringing their countries inside the Union. And today we are telling them we have made the same choice. The year 2025 is not a target date, but a perspective, true for the countries that are currently negotiating, but also a realistic perspective for the countries that will start negotiations in the coming months” said Mogherini.

Commissioner Hahn said that this was a historic opportunity for the region and a perspective for all Western Balkans countries.

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“We are not talking about a date, but a perspective. Some country could potentially join the EU by this date, which is an ambitious plan. There is still a lot of work ahead, but I expect that this is a positive momentum that creates motivation and optimism, so that everyone would do their homework, including the EU”, Hahn said.

SUMMARY

The Strategy states that the European perspective of the Western Balkans is clear and unambiguous, and that through this document the EU will be able to provide unprecedented support to this goal. It recalls that the EU’s enlargement strategy must be part and parcel of the larger strategy to strengthen the Union by 2025 set out by President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker in his State of the Union speech of September 2017.

In the document, the EC assessed that the Western Balkan countries now have a historic window of opportunity to firmly and unequivocally bind their future to the European Union, and pointed out that they will have to act with determination. In addition, accession is and will remain a merit-based process fully dependent on the objective progress achieved by each country. The countries may catch up or overtake each other depending on progress made.

It points out that, with strong political will, the delivery of real and sustained reforms, and definitive solutions to disputes with neighbours, Montenegro and Serbia could potentially be ready for membership in a 2025 perspective. It is indicated, however, that in order to meet the well-established membership criteria the Western Balkan countries need to implement comprehensive reforms in crucial areas.

Rule of law, fundamental rights and governance need to be strengthened, functioning of democratic institutions needs to be substantially improved, while the reform of the judiciary, fight against corruption and organised crime, as well as the public administration reform need to produce tangible results.

It was also concluded that the governments of the Western Balkans countries need to provide more comprehensive reform processes, which will involve all stakeholders and society.

“Rule of law needs to be substantially strengthened. Today, the countries (of the WB) show clear elements of state capture, including links with organized crime and corruption at all levels of government and administration, as well as a strong entanglement of public and private interests. All this feeds a sentiment of impunity and inequality. There is also extensive political interference in and control of the media.“, the text of the Strategy stated.

The EC representative warned that critical parts of the region's economies are uncompetitive, with too much undue political interference and an underdeveloped private sector, and that none of the Western Balkans can currently be considered a functioning market economy nor to have the capacity to cope with the competitive pressure and market forces in the union. Furthermore, the Strategy stated that economic reforms must be pursued with more rigour, and structural weaknesses, low competitiveness and high unemployment addressed.

The Strategy indicates that there are still important bilateral disputes between countries in the region which remain to be solved. The EU will not accept to import these disputes and the instability they could entail.

The document states that the EU will significantly increase its support for the transformation process in the Western Balkans, and that the Commission has foreseen in that part an Action Plan to support the transformation of the Western Balkans, which includes six key initiatives dealing with specific areas of interest for both the EU and the countries of the Western Balkans. It is also added that the EU must be ready to welcome new members, bearing in mind the institutional and financial perspectives.

The Commission will prepare an impact assessment in key policies prior to accession, and in order to provide adequate funding to support this strategy and a continued path towards membership, the Commission proposes a gradual increase in funding under the Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance (IPA).

It is pointed out that leaders in the region must not leave room for doubt in their strategic orientation and commitment, because they are the ones who ultimately have to take responsibility for turning this historical possibility into reality.

"Joining the EU is a choice. This requires political and social consensus and support of the hearts and minds of people. There can be no ambiguity of leaders about where the Western Balkans belongs, as well as in which direction it is heading. It is now up to the state authorities, with the support of their societies, to take over the ownership (over the process) and to meet well-known conditions for accession. In order for the ambitious best scenario to become a reality, action must be taken now", it is stated in the Strategy.

MINISTRY OF EUROPEAN AFFAIRS