22nd Mar 2018

EU report: Western Balkan states held back by lawlessness

  • Bosnian police - up against corruption 17 years on from the war (Photo: The Advocacy Project)

The European Commission's new enlargement strategy says corruption and organised crime are the biggest obstacles on Western Balkan countries' path to EU membership.

The paper, obtained by EUobserver on Friday (5 October), provides a general overview of the pitfalls and progress towards joining the EU in the Western Balkans, Turkey and Iceland.

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Peter Stano, the spokesman for enlargement commissioner Stefan Fuele, told reporters in Brussels the same day that the commission will present the final report on Wednesday.

The draft notes that "good governance, the rule of law, administrative capacity, unemployment, economic reform and social inclusion remain major challenges in most countries, in particular Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo."

Freedom of expression is also regarded as a major problem, with government threats against journalists not uncommon, especially in Turkey.

The EU's regular enlargement report this year comes amid the backdrop of the euro crisis - most EU countries are currently suffering from recession and unemployment is soaring, especially in southern EU states.

The draft text said the commission will "adapt" its "economic surveillance of enlargement countries" and organise special meetings with ministers from EU-aspirant states where they will have to justify any changes to their economic and fiscal reform plans.

The commission also said it aims to spend €14.2 billion on enlargement between 2014 and 2020 - a €2.5 billion increase on its 2007 to 2013 budget.

The Western Balkans

Kosovo's supervised independence came to an official end in September.

But basic goods are now too expensive for some, with official unemployment figures hovering around 35 percent. The jobless rate is even higher among the young.

"More worryingly still, favourable results in poverty reduction from the pre-crisis period are being reversed," says the EU document.

The draft is short on detail, but notes the commission will publish a separate feasibility study on Kosovo.

The EU executive aims to focus on its judiciary, the fight against organised crime and corruption.

Meanwhile, Kosovo's neighbour and antagonist Serbia, which was granted candidate status in March, is making some progress.

But the EU said Serbia will need to follow-through on its agreements on better day-to-day relations with Pristina and to "tackle broader political issues."

The commission also recommends moving forward on Macedonia. The draft report says the "commission strongly believes that moving the accession process of this country to its next stage is necessary to consolidate reforms."

Macedonia was granted candidate status in 2005 but has been hampered by an outstanding name dispute with Greece as well as inter-ethnic tensions and press freedom violations. The commission wants the name-dispute resolved "without delay."

Bosnia falls short on all almost all fronts.

Any momentum towards EU integration stopped amid a 16-month political stalemate after the 2010 elections. "Bosnia and Herzegovina has made little progress towards meeting the political criteria," notes the draft.

Political infighting, constitutional reforms in shambles, and weak democratic institutions are among some of the problems noted.

Albania, on the other hand, has seen marked improvement since rival political parties set aside some of their differences in November.

The draft notes progress in just about every pre-accession condition but views parliamentary elections next spring as "an important test for the new electoral law and of continued cross-party commitment to reform."

Montenegro has also moved forward but needs to improve investigations into high-level corruption and organised crime cases.

The commission adopted a separate communication on Croatia. The country is set to join the EU in July 2013.

Turkey and Iceland

Turkey gets good marks in most every field except on its political scene, says the draft.

A lack of fundamental rights, fair trial and freedom of expression, as well as a "disproportionate application" of laws in its fight against crime and terrorism are cause for concern.

The draft calls for Turkey to normalise relations with Cyprus and to respect the sovereignty of EU member states.

The two countries have been stuck in a frozen conflict over Turkish-occupied north Cyprus since the 1970s. Turkey has no diplomatic relations with Cyprus, which currently holds the EU presidency, and Cyprus has been blocking its EU entry talks for more than two years.

Out on top is Iceland.

The Nordic island-nation is well advanced in all areas, but the report notes shortfalls in the areas of financial services, food safety and free movement of capital.

EU divided over Western Balkan enlargement

After the European Commission presented its Western Balkans strategy last week, with a view of possibly integrating the region by 2025, some EU ministers were less enthusiastic after their first discussion of the new policy.


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