Ireland recognises the value of EU accession as a transformative driver for stability and peace in the Western Balkans. We have always been, and will remain, a strong supporter of enlargement of the European Union, provided that candidate countries meet the necessary conditions for membership. In this regard, we welcome the reform agenda underway in the countries of the Western Balkans and the progress that has been made in the areas of security and rule of law.
In March 2020, EU 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.
The European Commission published its Annual Enlargement Package and country reports in October 2020. 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 country reports for 2020 assessed both Serbia and Montenegro as having both made limited progress. Serbia needs to accelerate its reforms and make significant progress in 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.
Regarding North Macedonia and Albania, it was agreed by the European Council in March 2020 to open negotiations with both countries. It was regrettable that Member States were unable to reach agreement on the draft negotiating frameworks for both countries at the November General Affairs Council. Ireland believes the draft negotiating frameworks should be agreed at the earliest available opportunity to allow the first Intergovernmental Conferences to take place with both countries.
Bosnia-Herzegovina has made limited progress over the last year and faces significant challenges to ensure implementation of the Commission’s 2019 recommendations in the areas of democracy, rule of law, fundamental rights, and public administration reform. Progress in these areas must be seen before the opening of accession negotiations with Bosnia-Herzegovina can be considered.
Kosovo is a potential candidate for Membership of the EU. The Commission’s report on Kosovo in 2020 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.
Ireland will continue to support the enlargement process and offer any practical assistance it can to candidate countries engaged in accession negotiations to the EU.