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 met 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.
Ireland was one of nine EU Member States which called for a strategic discussion on the Western Balkans to be held at the Foreign Affairs Council in May, as we recognised that there is an urgent need to address the increasing frustration in the region, particularly with accession. In recent discussions, Ireland has stressed the centrality of the enlargement process to stability and peace in the Western Balkans and urged the current blockage on beginning negotiations with both North Macedonia and Albania to be resolved as soon as possible. We have also emphasised the need for the EU to improve the way in which it communicates in the Western Balkans – this has been a long-running issue but the pandemic has brought this problem into sharp focus.
EU Ministers were unable to reach agreement on the opening of accession negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia on 22 June at the General Affairs Council. Both countries have met all of the requirements to open negotiations, but Bulgaria vetoed the proposal to hold Intergovernmental Conferences, due to ongoing bilateral issues with North Macedonia.
Intergovernmental Conferences with Serbia and Montenegro were held in Luxembourg on 22 June. These were the first Intergovernmental Conferences held under the revised enlargement methodology (designed to boost the credibility and dynamism of the process). No decisions to open new chapters were taken for either Serbia or Montenegro, with further work required in the “Fundamentals” cluster (rule of law, economic criteria and public administration reform) needed before this can occur.
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. These are not insignificant, when added to the ongoing migration issues facing the country, which require greater political cohesion. 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 though some measure of stability has now been restored following recent elections. 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 actively support the enlargement process and accession negotiations to the EU as well as the individual European perspectives of the Western Balkans countries.