Tuesday, 6 October 2020

Questions (407)

Bernard Durkan

Question:

407. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the degree to which discussions between the EU and countries in the western Balkans continue in the context of EU enlargement; the level of agreement reached to date; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28824/20]

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Written answers (Question to Foreign)

In March 2020, Member States agreed an enhanced accession methodology, which seeks to make the accession process more credible and dynamic, by clustering together negotiating Chapters and phasing in participation in EU programmes and policies. The enhanced methodology also recognises the need for more decisive measures proportionally sanctioning any serious or prolonged stagnation or even backsliding in reform implementation.

In terms of the progress of individual Western Balkan countries, Serbia and Montenegro are both currently negotiating Chapters of the Acquis with the EU. Serbia has opened negotiations on 18 Chapters, with two provisionally closed. Montenegro has opened all Chapters and provisionally closed three. The European Commission is expected to publish its Annual Enlargement Package and country reports on 6th October 2020. The country reports for 2019 assessed both Serbia and Montenegro as having both made progress, but there remain areas for improvement. Serbia needs to make significant progress in alignment with the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy and the normalisation of relations with Kosovo, while Montenegro must address shortcomings in the areas of media freedom, fight against corruption and trafficking, and turn its attention to the closing of Chapters.

Kosovo is a potential candidate for Membership of the EU. The Commission’s report on Kosovo in 2019 noted that the political situation in Kosovo remains challenging. Rule of law, judicial reform, public administration reform, organised crime and normalisation of the relationship with Serbia are just some of the areas that must be comprehensively addressed in order for Kosovo to advance on its European path. It will be some time before Kosovo can qualify as a candidate country.

Regarding North Macedonia and Albania. It was agreed by the European Council in March 2020 to open negotiations with both countries. The draft negotiating frameworks are currently being discussed by Member States. Once these are agreed, we can proceed to the first Intergovernmental Conference. Ireland warmly welcomes the opening of accession negotiations with both countries and looks forward to the first Intergovernmental Conferences taking place at the earliest opportunity.

In relation to Bosnia-Herzegovina, we await the annual report due to be published on 6th October. In 2019, the Commission set out 14 recommendations in the areas of democracy, rule of law, fundamental rights, and public administration reform that need to be implemented before the opening of accession negotiations with Bosnia-Herzegovina can be considered.

Ireland will continue to support all of the six Western Balkans countries on their path towards Europe.