Ireland is a strong supporter of the enlargement of the European Union and the accession of the countries of the Western Balkans. Based on our own experience of EU membership, we believe it to be a transformative driver for stability, peace, and prosperity.
The European Commission published its Annual Enlargement Package on 29 May, which included progress reports on the six Western Balkans countries.
Both Montenegro and Serbia have been making steady progress in their negotiations with the EU and in implementing the reforms required to align with the acquis. The Republic of North Macedonia and Albania have both made sufficient progress and the Commission recommends the opening of negotiations with both countries. Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo both have further reforms to implement if they wish to upgrade their status. We support the Commission's findings and recommendations and will be supporting opening negotiations with both Albania and North Macedonia.
While we firmly support the European perspective of the six Western Balkan countries, Ireland has been clear that all benchmarks and criteria, particularly those relating to Chapters 23 and 24 of the acquis, which deal with issues relating to the rule of law, must be met before accession can be agreed.
We are also clear that the EU cannot import instability; the six Western Balkan states must resolve all outstanding bilateral issues before they can become members of the EU. The Prespa Agreement between the Republic of North Macedonia and Greece is a step in the right direction and shows that even the most fraught bilateral disputes can be resolved with committed leadership.
Providing the countries of the Western Balkans with a credible membership perspective is essential. We therefore believe it is important that the candidate and potential candidate countries are supported and rewarded as they make progress on their respective European paths. For this reason, we support increasing the funding available to the Instrument for Pre-Accession Funding (IPA) in the next Multi-Annual Financial Framework of the European Union. Ireland also gives annual funding to the Regional Co-operation Council, which supports regional cooperation and connectivity across the Western Balkans. In addition, officials in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and our Embassies accredited to the region are working to strengthen our already warm bilateral relations with accession countries. To that end, officials at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade earlier this month held bilateral consultations with Albania, and we will continue to cultivate our bilateral relations and support the enlargement process within the institutions of the European Union.