13th Apr 2024

Balkans warned: no EU accession without reform

The western Balkan states were given a clear signal on Tuesday by EU member states that the necessary political reforms need to be made before they have any prospects for EU membership. "Our doors are open, but there is no free access and cheap tickets," the Danish ambassador to the EU, Poul Christoffersen said, speaking on behalf of the Foreign Affairs Minister.

Political will needed

Greek Foreign Affairs Minister George Papandreou commented also along the same line, saying, "on the one hand there should be the commitment to open the doors of the EU, but on the other hand it has to say that it is not an automatic process."

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In a public debate on the Greek Presidency paper on the programme for the Western Balkans, the EU states endorsed the principle that the Stabilisation and Association process should be the leading policy framework for the five Balkan countries - Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (Serbia-Montenegro).

The Italian Foreign Affairs Minister Franco Frattini said, "growing together is a process which requires sacrifices on all sides. The Western Balkans need to show political will and that they are really interested in reform," he said.

Italy, which will take over the EU helm from Greece next July, is also putting the Western Balkans high on its agenda. However further work on institutional building in these countries needs to be done, it said, besides giving them stimulation to develop their economic and democratic process. "We in Italy feel that the Commission could play a stronger role to put forward this plan of action," Mr Frattini said.

Prodi: no shortcuts to accession

In a letter sent last week to the Greek and Italian Premiers, Costas Simitis and Silvio Berlusconi, Romano Prodi outlined how the EU strategy should be for this region. "We have to tell these countries that we want them to join the Union. But to achieve this result there are rules and standards that need to be implemented and respected."

"EU membership is an objective if there is a continuation of the reform programme," Mr Prodi said on Tuesday. "There are no shortcuts to accession. The acquis and the Copenhagen criteria have to be there."

Romano Prodi also said that the Balkans is a priority for the EU also on the military side. On 1 January 2003, the EU launched its first mission under the European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP) framework – the EU police mission in Bosnia – and it now hopes to take over the NATO military mission Allied Harmony in FYROM next March.

Problem of corruption

EU member states, whilst welcoming the prospect of this Eastern enlargement, were however concerned about the problems of violence, corruption and organised crime present in these countries. "70% of the prostitution in the UK is organised by Albanians," the UK representative said during the debate.

France said that stress should be put on the area of justice and home affairs. Concerns came also from the Netherlands: "Each time we enlarge, we must go forward with a set of careful steps," and Sweden: "Far reaching structural changes are required."

Croatia first

Croatia will be the first Balkan country that will submit its formal application to become an EU member. The Croatian Prime Minister, Ivica Racan, confirmed on Monday that Croatia would submit its formal application to become a member of the European Union on 18 February in Athens.

Javier Solana, High Representative for the EU's Foreign and Security Policy, met with Mr. Tonino Picula, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Croatia on Tuesday. Speaking to the press after the meeting, Mr Solana said that "there is no doubt Croatia will be a member of the European Union".

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