EU report good for Kosovo, bad for Serbia
The European Commission has said Albania, Kosovo and Macedonia should take steps forward in their bids to join the EU.
Its annual enlargement report out on Wednesday (10 October) recommended that member states should give Albania official EU candidate status and repeated calls to open accession talks with Macedonia.
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It also said EU countries can sign a pre-accession pact, called a Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA), with Kosovo despite the fact five of them do not recognise its statehood.
EU capitals will decide whether to endorse the commission's ideas at a summit in December.
But the list of caveats in the commission survey gives them plenty of scope not to move forward on any of the proposals.
On Albania, the commission said it should gain the new status only if it makes progress on judicial reform, organised crime and new rules on how to behave in parliament. Enlargement commissioner Stefan Fuele added that elections in March next year will be a "crucial test."
On Macedonia, Fuele said starting talks - the commission's standing recommendation since 2009 - would "lessen the risk" it might lose faith in its EU future because of the name dispute with Greece.
Greece and Macedonia are at odds over use of the appellation "Macedonia" because Athens says it implies a territorial claim on a Greek region of the same name.
Fuele did not propose a solution. But he said talks could start with the aim of resolving the name dispute "at an early stage" in the negotiations.
The commission's view on Kosovo is also designed to save time.
"The possibility for the Union to conclude international agreements is not limited to generally recognised independent states ... In the past, the EU has concluded several international agreements with entities other than sovereign states," its report said.
If EU countries accept the line, they can launch SAA talks and try to solve the legal quandary later on.
EUobserver understands the legal analysis behind the commission statement is based on analogies with past EU pacts with Hong Kong and Taiwan. Neither are fully-fledged sovereign states. But the analogy is problematic because neither have an EU accession promise, which Kosovo does.
Serbia came out as the big loser on Wednesday.
It did not get commission backing for launching accession talks.
On top of that, Fuele came close to saying it has to recognise Kosovo if it wants to get into the EU by making "visible and sustainable improvement" in day-to-day ties "gradually leading to normalisation of relations" between the two sides.
His Serbia report also contained rebukes on gay rights.
Meanwhile, Croatia got the green light to join in mid-2013 as planned.
The commission spelled out a dozen or so small items to tidy up, such as signing a privatisation contract for the port of Brodosplit. But Fuele said Croatia should not be subject to post-accession monitoring, as imposed on Bulgaria and Romania.
He declined to get into the Croatia-Slovenia bank row which is threatening to delay the accession date.
Slovenia has said it will not ratify Croatia's accession unless it stops asking for its money back from Slovenia's Ljubljanska Banka in an affair going back to the break-up of Yugoslavia.
But the threat is still real despite Fuele's laissez faire approach.
A Slovenian foreign ministry official told EUobserver from Ljubljana the same day that: "If Croatia withdraws the authorisation from its commercial banks from suing Ljubljanska Banka at court, that would be the signal that the ratification process can go on."