The European Commission has unveiled its annual progress report and recommendations on prospective new member countries.
This year saw increased attention on the process by which the EU gains new members, known as enlargement, with Croatia becoming the 28th EU country on 1 July 2013.
This week, the Commission released its annual report assessing the progress made by the countries that have applied for membership. The report looks at the full range of criteria for EU membership, from ensuring good economic governance to respect for human rights, and makes recommendations for the following year.
According to the report, before the Commission can recommend opening accession negotiations Albania will need to intensify reforms in key priority areas, notably as regards the rule of law.
Montenegro continues to sufficiently meet the political criteria for EU membership. It was also recommended that the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia should begin membership talks. However these remain on hold until an agreement between all EU governments is made.
A historic agreement between Serbia and Kosovo* to help normalise relations has allowed Serbia to begin membership negotiations. Kosovo has also moved closer to an association agreement with the EU, a first step towards eventually joining. However, progress by Bosnia and Herzegovina was described as disappointing.
As for Turkey, reform efforts continued, notably with the adoption of an important judiciary reform package, the announcement of a democratisation package and the start of peace talks aiming to end terrorism and violence in the Southeast of the country and to pave the way for a solution of the Kurdish issue. For Iceland, the Commission produced a simplified report on how the country can align with the EU, following the Icelandic government’s decision to put membership negotiations on hold.
Protecting vulnerable groups
All countries in the Balkans and Turkey still need to undertake further reforms to ensure that freedom of expression is respected and tackle discrimination, particularly towards Roma people and the gay community. New priority will be attached to these issues in the enlargement process, with more targeted funding available.
* This designation is without prejudice to positions on status, and is in line with UNSCR 1244/99 and the ICJ Opinion on the Kosovo declaration of independence.