I propose to take Questions Nos. 81 and 91 together.
Enlargement remains one of the European Union’s most successful policies, fostering peace, stability and prosperity, and the Western Balkans region remains central to enlargement policy. Already this year, in addition to Croatia’s accession, we have seen significant progress in relation to Serbia and Kosovo in particular. In June, under the Irish Presidency, the EU agreed to open accession negotiations with Serbia and to begin negotiations on a Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) with Kosovo. This agreement came in recognition of the progress achieved in the EU-facilitated Belgrade-Pristina dialogue and, in particular, the agreement on principles governing the normalisation of relations between the two countries.
The EU agreed to hold the first intergovernmental conference with Serbia, to officially begin accession negotiations, by January 2014 at the very latest, on the basis of a negotiating framework to be adopted by the European Council later this year. The European Commission is also making preparations to begin negotiations with Kosovo on a Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA), a significant milestone on Kosovo’s European path.
Meanwhile, accession negotiations are continuing with Montenegro. Under the Irish Presidency, we opened a new chapter in talks with Montenegro and work is underway towards the opening, later this year, of the two key chapters relating to the judiciary, fundamental rights and justice, freedom and security. In neighbouring Albania, the new Government has made gaining EU candidate status a political priority. The European Commission will, later this month, give its assessment of the reform process in Albania and, on that basis, consider whether Albania could be granted candidate status. In Macedonia, while there have been some positive developments in the domestic reform process and in good neighbourly relations, there has also been negative fallout from the political crisis at the end of last year. We await the European Commission’s detailed assessment of the situation and whether, in the Commission’s view, enough progress has been made to recommend opening of accession negotiations.
There has been a disappointing lack of progress in the delivery by the leadership in Bosnia and Herzegovina on important reforms, for example, on bringing the constitution into line with a key ruling of the European Court of Human Rights. The EU has made clear the reforms needed in order to realise the country’s EU perspective. The EU needs to examine what else can be done to encourage the political leaders of Bosnia and Herzegovina to move forward with reforms. As I have stated before, I believe this can best be done in the context of the review of the mandate of the EU’s Special Representative to Bosnia and Herzegovina. However, I would continue to emphasise that while we will do everything in our power to encourage movement on the path to EU integration, this is ultimately a matter for the political leaders of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
In relation to Turkey, the accession progress was reinvigorated earlier this year when, under the Irish Presidency, it was agreed to open a new chapter (on regional policy) in accession talks. The opening of this chapter will take place at an intergovernmental conference later this year. Ireland’s view remains that greater EU engagement through the accession progress with Turkey is the best way to ensure delivery of reform.
Finally, in relation to Iceland, we note the decision of the Icelandic Government to put negotiations with the EU on hold until an assessment of the negotiations and developments within the EU has been made, and a referendum takes place.
Later this month, the European Commission will bring forward its annual progress report on enlargement. This will provide the basis for discussion among EU member states on the prospects for progress in each case and for the adoption of conclusions at the European Council in December. Ireland remains a strong supporter of EU enlargement and we look forward to working with each country on their respective European path. As for particular obstacles identified, we have always stated that enlargement is a conditional process; prospective member states must themselves achieve progress on reforms in order to move forward on their EU paths.