Ireland continues to be a strong supporter of enlargement of the European Union. Our support is premised on the basis that it is up to candidate countries to ensure they meet the necessary conditions for Membership. We therefore do not attach a particular timeframe to the admission of specific countries. Accession happens if and when candidate countries meet the conditions.
Serbia and Montenegro have been candidate countries since 2012 and 2010 respectively. They are both currently negotiating Chapters of the Acquis with the European Union. Serbia has opened negotiations on 17 Chapters, with two provisionally closed. Montenegro has opened 32 Chapters and provisionally closed three. The European Commission published its Annual Enlargement Package and country reports on 29th May 2019. The country reports assessed both Serbia and Montenegro as having both made progress over the past year, 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 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.
North Macedonia and Albania have been candidate countries since 2005 and 2014, respectively. The Commission’s report in May recommended opening negotiations with both countries. North Macedonia has made significant progress in implementing the reforms recommended by the European Council in 2018, and the ratification of the Prespa Agreement shows that even the most difficult bilateral disputes in the region can be resolved. Although the situation in Albania is more complex, it has made progress across all Chapter areas in the past year, and maintained 100% alignment with the Common Foreign and Security Policy. The comprehensive justice reforms are also a significant step in strengthening the judiciary.
The question of whether to open accession negotiations with North Macedonia was discussed at both the General Affairs Council and European Council in October. Unfortunately, agreement could not be reached. Ireland is firmly in favour of opening negotiations with both countries and regrets the delay. A further discussion on enlargement is due to take place at the General Affairs Council in November. Ireland will continue to argue that both countries have met the requirements for opening negotiations.
Armenia and Georgia are not currently candidates or potential candidates for accession to the EU, however, they are participants in the EU’s European Neighbourhood Policy, and have aspirations to one day become candidate countries. We are supportive of the aspirations of the countries in the European Neighbourhood, provided they are able to meet the criteria to become candidates.