Montenegro is part of the EU

The countries of the Western Balkans

The EU has developed a policy to support the gradual integration of the Western Balkans into the EU. On July 1, 2013, Croatia became the first of the seven countries to join, and Montenegro, Serbia, the Republic of North Macedonia and Albania are official candidate countries. Accession negotiations and negotiating chapters have been opened with Montenegro and Serbia. Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo are potential candidate countries.

Legal basis

  • Title V of the Treaty on European Union (TEU): Union external action;
  • Article 207 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU): international agreements;
  • Article 49 TEU: criteria for application and membership.

aims

The aim of the European Union is to promote peace, stability and economic development in the countries of the Western Balkans and to open up prospects for integration into the EU.

background

In 1999 the EU launched the Stabilization and Association Process (SAP) as the framework for relations between the EU and the Western Balkans and the Stability Pact as a broader initiative involving all major international actors. The Stability Pact was replaced in 2008 by the Regional Cooperation Council. At the European Council in Thessaloniki in 2003 it was again confirmed that all SAP countries are potential EU accession candidates. This 'European perspective' was reaffirmed in the Commission's strategy for the Western Balkans of February 2018 and in the Sofia Declaration adopted at the EU-Western Balkans summit on 17 May 2018 in the Bulgarian capital.

Instruments

A. The Stabilization and Association Process (SAP)

Since its inception in 1999, the SAP has been the strategic framework for supporting the gradual rapprochement of the Western Balkans with the EU. It is based on bilateral contractual relationships, financial support, political dialogue, trade relations and regional cooperation.

The contractual relationships take the form of Stabilization and Association Agreements (SAA). It provides for political and economic cooperation and the creation of free trade areas with the countries concerned. Permanent structures of cooperation are established in each SAA on the basis of common democratic principles, human rights and the rule of law. The Stabilization and Association Council, which meets annually at ministerial level, oversees the application and implementation of these agreements. He is assisted by the Stabilization and Association Committee. Finally, cooperation between the parliaments of the Western Balkans and the European Parliament is ensured through a Parliamentary Stabilization and Association Committee.

Since the SAA with Kosovo came into force in April 2016, Stabilization and Association Agreements have been in place with all candidate and potential candidate countries in the Western Balkans. The SAA with Kosovo is a purely EU agreement that does not have to be ratified by the member states (five member states do not recognize Kosovo as an independent state). The trade and trade aspects of the SAA will be included in interim agreements. They generally come into force shortly after signature, as trade is an exclusive EU competence.

B. The accession process

The EU accession candidates must meet the Copenhagen political criteria (see abstract entitled “The enlargement of the European Union”). Once a country is recognized as an applicant, it goes through the various stages of the process, the pace largely depending on the merits and progress of that country.

The applicant country must adopt and implement all EU legislation (the acquis communautaire). The Commission reports on progress in its annual country reports. Every important decision - from the opening of negotiations to their conclusion - is taken unanimously by the Council. The accession treaty must be adopted by Parliament and the Council before it is ratified by all contracting states.

Candidate and potential candidate countries receive financial support to enable them to carry out the necessary reforms. Since 2007, EU pre-accession assistance has been provided through a single, uniform instrument: the Pre-Accession Assistance Instrument (IPA).

Most candidate and potential candidate countries can also participate in EU programs.

C. Regional cooperation

European integration and regional cooperation are closely intertwined. One of the central goals of the SAP is to encourage countries in the region to work together in a variety of areas, including the prosecution of war crimes, border affairs, refugee issues and the fight against organized crime. A specific element of the IPA concerns regional cooperation and cross-border programs.

The Regional Cooperation Council (RCC), based in Sarajevo, is subject to the Southeast European Cooperation Process (SEECP). The RCC aims to support the European and Euro-Atlantic aspirations of its members who are not in the EU and to expand cooperation in areas such as economic and social development, energy and infrastructure, justice and home affairs, security cooperation, development of human capital and parliamentary relations. The EU and numerous individual member states support the RCC and are involved in it.

The Central European Free Trade Agreement (CEFTA) is another important initiative in the region. In addition, the countries of the Western Balkans also participate in various regional framework structures.

D. Visa-free travel

Visa-free entry into the Schengen area was granted to citizens from the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (now the Republic of North Macedonia), Montenegro and Serbia in December 2009 and citizens from Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina in November 2010. In January 2012, a dialogue on visa liberalization was launched with Kosovo. In July 2018, the Commission confirmed that Kosovo had met the last criterion. Accordingly, Parliament decided to start interinstitutional negotiations, which are still ongoing.

Current status

A. Albania

Albania applied for EU membership on April 28, 2009. In 2012 the Commission recommended granting the country candidate country status, subject to the adoption of pending reforms. In October 2013, the Commission unanimously recommended granting Albania candidate status, which it did in June 2014. Given the progress made in the country, the Commission recommended opening accession negotiations with Albania in 2016, 2018 and 2019. In June 2018, the Council approved the possible opening of accession negotiations with Albania in June 2019, provided the necessary conditions are met. However, neither in June 2019 nor in October 2019 did the Council give the green light to open accession negotiations. In March 2020, it finally decided to open accession negotiations - subject to the fulfillment of several conditions. In July 2020 the Commission presented the draft negotiating framework to the member states - the first to take into account the February 2020 “revised method for enlargement to include the Western Balkans”. The adoption of this framework by the Council is a prerequisite for the convening of the first Intergovernmental Conference with Albania.

B. Bosnia and Herzegovina

Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) is a potential candidate country. An SAA was negotiated and signed in June 2008, but its entry into force has been suspended, mainly due to the country's failure to implement a landmark ruling by the European Court of Human Rights. With the new approach adopted by the EU for the country, in which economic governance has become more central, the SAA was finally able to come into force on June 1, 2015. On February 15, 2016, the country submitted an application for membership. The Commission presented its opinion, including a list of 14 priority items for Bosnia and Herzegovina, in May 2019. Bosnia and Herzegovina's answers to a comprehensive catalog of questions formed the basis. One of the 14 main priorities is to ensure the proper functioning of the Stabilization and Association Parliamentary Committee, which embodies the parliamentary dimension of the SAA. In July 2020 - almost five years after the first and so far only meeting of the Stabilization and Association Parliamentary Committee in November 2015 - the Parliament of Bosnia and Herzegovina voted on the rules of procedure of the Stabilization and Association Parliamentary Committee, paving the way for their official ones to be announced soon Adopted by the committee.

C. Republic of North Macedonia

The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (now the Republic of North Macedonia) applied for EU membership in March 2004 and was granted EU candidate status in December 2005. However, the country was unable to start accession negotiations for many years, primarily due to the dispute with Greece over the use of the name “Macedonia”. This dispute was successfully resolved by the Prespa Agreement, which came into force in February 2019, on the new name of the country - Republic of North Macedonia or North Macedonia. Since 2009, the Commission has consistently recommended, with the full support of the European Parliament, that accession negotiations be opened. In June 2018, the Council approved the possible opening of accession negotiations with North Macedonia in June 2019, provided that the necessary conditions are met. However, neither in June 2019 nor in October 2019 did the Council give the green light to open accession negotiations. In March 2020, he finally decided to open accession negotiations without any additional conditions. In July 2020 the Commission presented the draft negotiating framework to the member states - the first to take into account the February 2020 “revised method for enlargement to include the Western Balkans”. The adoption of this framework by the Council is a prerequisite for the convening of the first Intergovernmental Conference with North Macedonia.

D. Kosovo

Kosovo is a potential candidate to join the EU. In February 2008 he unilaterally declared his independence. Five EU member states (Cyprus, Greece, Romania, Slovakia and Spain) and two countries in the region (Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina) have not recognized Kosovo's independence. In July 2018 - six years after the publication of a visa liberalization roadmap - the Commission confirmed that Kosovo met all the criteria. The European Parliament reacted immediately and opened interinstitutional negotiations, which are still ongoing. In the region, only Kosovo is exempt from visa liberalization. Following a landmark agreement on the normalization of relations reached between Belgrade and Pristina in April 2013 (the "Brussels Agreement"), the European Council decided in June 2013 to start negotiations on an SAA with Kosovo, which will take place on It came into force on April 1, 2016. As in the case of Serbia, the future integration of Kosovo into the EU remains closely linked to the high-level dialogue moderated by the EU between Kosovo and Serbia, which is to result in a comprehensive, legally binding agreement on the normalization of their relations. In July 2020, the dialogue was resumed after a standstill of almost two years.

E. Montenegro

Montenegro, which gained independence in 2006, applied for EU membership in December 2008. The country was granted candidate status in December 2010 and accession negotiations began in June 2012. In line with the EU's new approach to the accession process, the main rule of law chapters - Chapter 23 on Judiciary and Fundamental Rights and Chapter 24 on Justice, Freedom and Security - were opened in December 2013 at an early stage of the negotiations. By November 2020, Montenegro had opened 33 negotiating chapters, three of which were temporarily closed. The remaining central chapter (on competition policy) opened in June 2020. In its strategy for the Western Balkans, published in February 2018, the Commission stated that Montenegro (and Serbia) could join the EU by 2025, although it acknowledged that this perspective was "very ambitious".

F. Serbia

Serbia applied for EU membership in December 2009 and was granted candidate status in March 2012 after Belgrade and Pristina reached an agreement on Kosovo's regional representation. The accession negotiations were formally started on January 21, 2014. The first two chapters, including the one on normalizing relations with Kosovo, opened in December 2015. The two central chapters on the rule of law (Chapters 23 and 24) opened on July 18, 2016. By November 2020, Serbia had opened 18 negotiating chapters (most recently the chapter on the free movement of capital in December 2019) and temporarily closed two of them. In its strategy for the Western Balkans, published in February 2018, the Commission stated that Serbia (and Montenegro) could join the EU by 2025, although it acknowledged that this perspective was "very ambitious". As in the case of Kosovo, the future integration of Serbia into the EU remains closely linked to the EU-moderated high-level dialogue between Serbia and Kosovo, which is to result in a comprehensive, legally binding agreement on the normalization of their relations. In July 2020, the dialogue was resumed after a standstill of almost two years.

Role of the European Parliament

Parliament is fully involved in the Stabilization and Association Process and its consent is required for all SAAs to be concluded (Article 218 (6) TFEU). Parliament must also approve every new accession to the EU (Article 49 TEU). In addition, through its budgetary powers, it has a direct influence on the amounts allocated to the Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance. Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee appoints standing rapporteurs for all candidate and potential candidate countries. Parliament sets out its position on enlargement in the form of annual resolutions on the Commission's latest annual country reports. In June 2020, following the EU-Western Balkans Summit in Zagreb, which was held via video conference, Parliament made a number of recommendations on the Western Balkan countries. Finally, it maintains regular bilateral relations with the parliaments of the Western Balkans through its delegations, who discuss with their counterparts on average twice a year topics that are relevant to the SAP and the EU accession process.

André De Munter