The European Union continues to work closely with the countries of the Western Balkans to encourage progress on their European path. The stability of the Western Balkans is important for the security of the EU and the region is a priority for the Bulgarian Presidency. A Strategy for the Western Balkans was published in February, and the Taoiseach will attend an EU-Western Balkans Summit in Sofia on 17 May where the main focus of discussion will be connectivity, which is essential for the future development of the countries of the region.
The countries of the Western Balkans have a European perspective, but reforms are required across a wide range of areas, particularly in the rule of law and fundamental freedoms, to reach the high standards set out in the chapters of the acquis communautaire.
Two of the countries of the Western Balkans have opened formal accession negotiations with the European Union: Montenegro and Serbia. Thirty chapters (out of a total of 35) have been opened with Montenegro; of these three have already been provisionally closed. Twelve chapters have been opened with Serbia and two have been provisionally closed.
The European Commission published country reports on each of the countries of the Western Balkans in April. These reports detail the ‘state of play’, assess progress made and make recommendations for future action, and will form the basis for a discussion by Ministers at the General Affairs Council in June.
The EU endeavours to foster good relations in all of its engagement with the Western Balkans, through the provision of pre-accession funding, by facilitating the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue and in its intense engagement with the candidate countries which have a ‘European Perspective’ but which have not yet opened formal negotiations, namely Albania and Macedonia, as well as the potential candidate countries of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo.
Ireland is a strong supporter of the enlargement policy of the EU, believing that the accession process is a transformative driver for peace and stability. We also believe that there can be no shortcuts to membership, and that all standards and conditions must be met.