The European Commission has laid out its proposals for the new enlargement methodology.
Statement published on the official website of the EU Office in Bosnia and Herzegovina reads that the proposal is aimed at driving forward the EU accession process, by making it more credible, more dynamic and predictable.
“The European Union enlargement to the Western Balkans is a top priority for the Commission. We are working on three tracks: Firstly, today we propose concrete steps on how to enhance the accession process. While we are strengthening and improving the process, the goal remains accession and full EU membership. Secondly, and in parallel, the Commission stands firmly by its recommendations to open accession negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania and will soon provide an update on the progress made by these two countries. Thirdly, in preparation of the EU-Western Balkans Summit in Zagreb in May, the Commission will come forward with an economic and investment development plan for the region”, said Oliver Varhelyi, Commissioner for European Neighborhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations.
European Commission’s proposal reads that the accession process needs to build on trust, mutual confidence and clear commitments by the European Union and the Western Balkans.
“Credibility should be reinforced through an even stronger focus on fundamental reforms, starting with the rule of law, the functioning of democratic institutions and public administration as well as the economy of the candidate countries. When partner countries meet the objective criteria, the Member States shall agree to move forward to the next stage of the process, respecting the merits-based approach”, the document reads.
Furthermore, according to European Commission, the political nature of the accession process requires a stronger political steer and engagement at the highest levels. “The Commission proposes to increase the opportunities for high level political and policy dialogue, through regular EU-Western Balkans summits and intensified ministerial contacts. Moreover, Member States should be involved more systematically in monitoring and reviewing the process. All bodies under Stabilization and Association Agreement will focus much more on the key political issues and reforms, while Inter-Governmental Conferences will provide stronger political steering for the negotiations”.
Also, to inject further dynamism into the negotiating process, the Commission proposed to group the negotiating chapters in six thematic clusters - fundamentals, internal market, competitiveness and inclusive growth, green agenda and sustainable connectivity, resources, agriculture and cohesion, and external relations.
“Negotiations on each cluster will be open as a whole - after fulfilling the opening benchmarks - rather than on an individual chapter basis. Negotiations on the fundamentals will be open first and closed last and the progress on these will determine the overall pace of negotiations. The timeframe between opening a cluster and closing the individual chapters should be limited, preferably within a year fully dependent on the progress of the reforms”, the document reads.
Finally, European Commission pledged to provide greater clarity on what the EU expects of enlargement countries at the different stages of the process. The Commission “will make clearer what the positive consequences progress on reforms can bring, and what the negative consequences will be when there is no progress”.
“To encourage demanding reforms, the Commission will better define the conditions set for candidates to progress and will provide clear and tangible incentives of direct interest to citizens. The more candidates advance in their reforms, the more they will advance in the process. Equally, the Commission proposes more decisive measures proportionally sanctioning any serious or prolonged stagnation or backsliding in reform implementation and meeting the requirements of accession process. Negotiations could be put on hold in certain areas, or in the most serious cases, suspended overall, and already closed chapters could be re-opened; benefits of closer integration, like access to EU programs, could be paused or withdrawn, and the scope and intensity of EU funding could be adjusted downward”, the document concludes.