Wednesday

30th Nov 2022

Opinion

Tweaking the EU enlargement process - a view from Kosovo

  • Picking up the pieces. EU enlargement is a complex jigsaw puzzle - now made more uncertain with the tweaks to the process for the Western Balkans (Photo: Wikimedia)

The recently-approved enlargement methodology of the European Commission was expected with high anticipation and curiosity by the six Western Balkan countries, alongside their EU partners.

But a post-Brexit trauma and unclear approach toward global challenges, was translated into a lack of clear perspective and unanimity among member states towards the region.

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After blocking the opening negotiations for Albania and Northern Macedonia, the EU has come up with this revised proposal, in order to convince more sceptical member states on inclusion of the Western Balkans.

Besides emphasising the already-known criteria and road map, the main focus is dedicated to sanctions for candidate countries in case they fail to undertake reforms and fulfilling them within a limited time-frame.

The content of the rest of the document is well-known for the potential or candidate countries and specified either in their stabilisation and association agreements or accession negotiation framework.

However, it is worth it paying attention to some details within the text. The clustering of the chapters in six sectors will have an impact and certain consequences in some or even all countries in this process.

The 'small print'

Firstly, "phasing in" to individual EU policies, if translated in practical terms, means that Western Balkan countries will get access in different sectors but it will be quite difficult to get fully-fledged membership. In other words, this introduces us to the EU at different speeds.

The EU will accept a certain country based on its needs and interests, give the right to the countries to have certain access (financial, security, etc) but will prolong the process of full membership. As an outcome, this will be a selective process and not a win-win solution for both sides.

Secondly, qualified majority voting looks like it will simplify the voting process for the candidate country at the final stage of membership and member states will not have the right to use the veto.

But due to the prolonged process of membership in different stages, countries will hardly ever reach that final stage of voting.

Thirdly, to this day the content of Chapter 34 and 35 remains unknown and their future impact unclear.

For Kosovo, Chapter 35 in Serbia's accession is crucial because it is dedicated to the dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia. This chapter according to the accession negotiation framework for Serbia is a "property" of the European External Action Service (EEAS) and not the Enlargement Commission.

It is the dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia and the agreements that are reached in this process that 'feed' this chapter. Automatically all the agreements became a benchmark for Serbia in their accession process. The progress in the dialogue is a 'must' for the future progress of Serbia in its accession process.

By making possible changes in the content and approach to this chapter and with the open opportunity given to Serbia in this document, so that "changes could be accommodated within the existing frameworks with the agreement of the country", this could trigger a chain of changes in the dynamic of the dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia and further consequences for the future.

In fact, Serbia since the day it started negotiations (January 2014) has been complaining of negotiating with 29 (28 member states plus Kosovo) instead of 28 member states and for having a huge burden.

It was Serbia's intention to move Chapter 35 from the EEAS to the Commission for Enlargement. This may sound very technical but it has a political impact.

If there are going to be changes related to the ownership, content and the procedure the way Chapter 35 is negotiated between Serbia and the EU, then this chapter will be considered as a miscellaneous. As such this will be the last in the list and less important and it will include all other remaining issues together.

Translating this into a Kosovo situation means that all the outstanding issues between Kosovo and Serbia will remain "on hold" until the day Serbia will reach the final stage of negotiations.

Therefore, Kosovo will be in a stalemate and depend fully on Serbia's willingness and generosity for future progress.

Therefore, it is of tremendous importance that this methodology sticks to the initial idea regarding Chapter 35 and does not change or give the right to the candidate countries to pick and choose the way they want to negotiate this chapter.

It is more than important to have a political decision and an agreement between Kosovo and Serbia, so each country can continue its path towards the EU.

The European Union and the process of enlargement need more political decisions and commitments from the EU leaders and member states and a clear message towards the Western Balkans.

The wording of the existing documents could confuse the process even more and will overlap with already existing documents.

Buying time will benefit nobody - we already have lost a lot of it until now.

Author bio

Mimoza Ahmetaj is the ambassador of Kosovo to the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, former ambassador to the EU, and previously minister for EU integration.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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