Tuesday

23rd Jan 2018

EU sets date for next wave of enlargement

  • Novi Sad, Serbia. "Western Balkans have a historic window of opportunity," the EU paper says (Photo: Zlatko Vickovic)

The EU is preparing to pledge a 2025 deadline for the next wave of enlargement, but Balkans disputes could hold things back.

"The Western Balkans partners now have a historic window of opportunity. For the first time, their accession perspective has a best-case timeframe," the commission is to say in a strategy paper to be adopted either on 7 or 14 February.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

  • Zaev (l) said name dispute could be solved by June (Photo: ec.europa.eu)

"With strong political will, the delivery of real reforms, and lasting solutions to disputes with neighbours, Montenegro and Serbia should be ready for membership by 2025," the text is to add, according to a draft seen by EUobserver.

It aims to say Albania, Bosnia, Macedonia, and Kosovo "should also be well advanced on their European path by then", or, according to alternative words in brackets, that their "negotiations … should be well advanced."

The paper marks a shift in tone after commission head Jean-Claude Juncker said in 2014 there would be no EU enlargement in the foreseeable future.

Serbia and Montenegro have already opened accession talks.

Albania and Macedonia are hoping to do it this year, if Macedonia can resolve its name dispute with Greece.

Bosnia is angling to gain EU "candidate" status, while Kosovo is considering to formally ask to become a candidate.

The commission paper warned that local disputes could hold back what it called its "ambitious" timeline.

"The EU cannot and will not import bilateral disputes. This is why all the Western Balkans partners concerned must resolve such disputes as a matter of urgency," the draft said.

It proposed that border issues should be solved by international arbitration, for instance in The Hague, and that rulings must be "binding, final" and "fully respected".

Thorny bramble

The thorniest dispute is Serbia's non-recognition of Kosovo's independence.

The commission paper said, nodding to Belgrade, that "frontrunners on the EU path have a strategic interest" in advocating the EU "aspirations of their partners".

It added that a "comprehensive normalisation of relations between Serbia and Kosovo in the form of a legally-binding agreement" was "crucial" for both their EU prospects.

Kosovo's problems go beyond Serbia, however.

Five EU states also do not recognise its independence.

Meanwhile, its new leader, Ramush Haradinaj, has vowed to block an EU tribunal in The Hague on Kosovo guerrilla war crime allegations.

The US, on Monday, refused to grant him a visa to attend an event in Iowa on 11 February in what looked like punishment.

A Serb general said the same day that Nato had "specific" information on a "security threat" in Kosovo due to the court row.

Name calling

The Macedonia-Greece name dispute could be resolved by July.

Greece has blocked Macedonia's EU and Nato entry talks for a decade on grounds that Macedonia's name implied a claim to a Greek region of the same name.

But Skopje and Athens say they are close to reaching a UN-mediated deal.

"We have a window for a solution," Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras said on Monday after holding talks with Macedonian leader Zoran Zaev.

Zaev said: "I believe there's a chance by the end of the middle of 2018 to find a settlement."

The Greek foreign minister said Macedonia should adopt a composite name with a geographical qualifier. Zaev declined to comment, saying: "I don't want to ruin the procedure of the imminent negotiations".

Laundry list

The list of Balkans disputes goes on 20 years after the wars there ended.

Croatia and Slovenia, which are already EU members, cannot agree on their maritime border in what Juncker said on Monday could hold back wider enlargement.

Croatia also has open border talks with Bosnia, Montenegro, and Serbia.

Kosovo had agreed on its border with Montenegro, but Pristina is now refusing to honour the accord.

Juncker's Balkans agenda is taking shape under Bulgaria's six-month EU presidency, which started on 1 January.

The EU will hold a Western Balkans summit on 18 May in Sofia - the 15th anniversary of a previous one in Thessaloniki, Greece, when member states first promised to take in the region.

The commission also aims to publish its regular progress reports on the Balkans aspirants in April.

"We will decide … in the next eight, nine months how to proceed with each and every one of these countries," Juncker's spokesman said on Monday.

Turkey is the only other country with an EU perspective.

The Western Balkans paper seen by EUobserver did not mention it, but the commission will take stock of relations with Ankara in its April reports.

Russian spoiler

Juncker's plans are also taking shape in the context of increased Russian activity.

Russia is flooding Balkans media with anti-EU propaganda and stoking Serb nationalism with arms deals.

Last year, suspected Russian spies were behind a failed coup in Montenegro designed to stop it from joining Nato. The Albanian foreign minister, Ditmir Bushati, recently told EUobserver he expected similar tricks in Macedonia this year.

"This is a possible scenario," Bushati said.

Opinion

2018 will be important for Western Balkans

The door to EU enlargement has at last creaked open, three years after European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker slammed it shut.

Bulgaria calls for West Balkan EU integration after Brexit

The UK leaving the EU gives an opportunity to bring the Western Balkans closer, Bulgaria's PM said in Brussels. Bulgaria will hold the upcoming rotating presidency, while Juncker said Serbia and Montenegro will be EU members by 2025.

News in Brief

  1. Belgium lowers terror alert level
  2. France, Spain set to gain seats in post-Brexit EU parliament
  3. Orban family probed over 'fraudulent' EU projects
  4. Spanish judge rejects Puigdemont arrest warrant
  5. Austria plans to sue Commission over Hungary's nuclear plant
  6. Puigdemont proposed as sole candidate for Catalan leadership
  7. Abbas in Brussels to discuss Palestinian state recognition
  8. Exiled Catalan leader leaves Belgium for first time

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Solutions for Sustainable Cities: New Grants Awarded for Branding Projects
  2. Mission of China to the EUTrade Between China, Belt and Road Countries up 15%
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersOresund Inspires Other EU Border Regions to Work Together to Generate Growth
  4. Mission of China to the EUTrade Between China, Belt and Road Countries up 15%
  5. AJC Transatlantic InstituteAJC Calls on EU to Sanction Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, Expel Ambassadors
  6. Dialogue PlatformRoundtable on "Political Islam, Civil Islam and The West" 31 January
  7. ILGA EuropeFreedom of Movement and Same-Sex Couples in Romania – Case Update!
  8. EU2017EEEstonia Completes First EU Presidency, Introduced New Topics to the Agenda
  9. Bio-Based IndustriesLeading the Transition Towards a Post-Petroleum Society
  10. ACCAWelcomes the Start of the New Bulgarian Presidency
  11. Mission of China to the EUPremier Li and President Tusk Stress Importance of Ties at ASEM Summit
  12. EU2017EEVAT on Electronic Commerce: New Rules Adopted

Latest News

  1. EU stands by Palestine on Jerusalem
  2. MEPs may bar killer robots and drones from EU research cash
  3. Europe's social democrats are having a hard time
  4. How Oettinger's CO2 permit sale could fill Brexit blackhole
  5. New Polish foreign minister tries to charm EU commission
  6. Middle East, Messi and missing MEPs on agenda This WEEK
  7. Instagram and Google Plus join EU anti-hate speech drive
  8. EU wants 'entrepreneurship' in education systems

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Jewish CongressChair of EU Parliament Working Group on Antisemitism Condemns Wave of Attacks
  2. Counter BalanceA New Study Challenges the Infrastructure Mega Corridors Agenda
  3. Dialogue PlatformThe Gülen Community: Who to Believe - Politicians or Actions?" by Thomas Michel
  4. Plastics Recyclers Europe65% Plastics Recycling Rate Attainable by 2025 New Study Shows
  5. European Heart NetworkCommissioner Andriukaitis' Address to EHN on the Occasion of Its 25th Anniversary
  6. ACCACFOs Risk Losing Relevance If They Do Not Embrace Technology
  7. UNICEFMake the Digital World Safer for Children & Increase Access for the Most Disadvantaged
  8. European Jewish CongressWelcomes Recognition of Jerusalem as the Capital of Israel and Calls on EU States to Follow Suit
  9. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Boost Innovation Cooperation Under Horizon 2020
  10. European Gaming & Betting AssociationJuncker’s "Political" Commission Leaves Gambling Reforms to the Court
  11. AJC Transatlantic InstituteAJC Applauds U.S. Recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s Capital City
  12. EU2017EEEU Telecom Ministers Reached an Agreement on the 5G Roadmap