THUNDER BAY – International News – The European Union is looking to expand. In a media statement released on October 10th, the European Commission is recommending, for a fourth time, to open accession negotiations with the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. It recommends granting EU candidate status to Albania subject to completion of key reform steps, and proposes negotiating a Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) with Kosovo once it has made progress in fulfilling a number of short term priorities. The Commission also confirmed that Croatia is on track in its membership preparations.
As well, in a set of annual reports, the Commission also assesses the progress towards EU accession made elsewhere in the Western Balkans, Turkey, and Iceland over the past year.
Presenting the annual Enlargement Package, Commissioner Stefan Füle said, “Our recommendations place the rule of law firmly at the centre of the accession process. To create a more stable and prosperous Europe, momentum needs to be maintained both for merit-based enlargement process on the EU side and for reforms on the ground in the enlargement countries”.
Today’s recommendations on Albania, Kosovo and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia as well as the imminent accession of Croatia, the recent start of accession negotiations with Montenegro and candidate status for Serbia – on the basis of clear indications of what is needed to open accession negotiations – show that once reforms are made, the EU delivers on its commitments. These positive developments in the Western Balkans send a strong signal of the transformative power of EU enlargement. To advance further, the Commission proposes to increase focus on a number of areas. Firstly, strengthening democratic governance by starting to address rule of law issues well before accession negotiations begin. Secondly, strengthening freedom of expression and independence of the media. Thirdly, tackling economic issues early in the process to consolidate economic and financial stability and help recovery. Finally, the Commission underlines that bilateral issues should be addressed as soon as possible; they should not hold up the accession process.
Common interests between the EU and Iceland, including in the field of renewable energy and climate change, are growing, as is the strategic importance of the EU’s Arctic policy. Accession negotiations are progressing well.
The positive agenda, launched to reinvigorate relations with Turkey, is already delivering its first results. Turkey’s active support to the positive agenda and its European perspective remains essential. However, concerns are growing regarding Turkey’s lack of substantial progress towards fully meeting the political criteria and the situation regarding fundamental rights on the ground remains a serious concern. Full implementation of the obligations under the Customs Union and progress towards normalisation of relations with Cyprus are urgent and could provide new momentum to accession negotiations.