The European Commission recommended starting accession negotiations with Ukraine and Moldova when it publishes its latest set of enlargement reports on November 8.
There was also good news for Georgia, as the Commission recommended granting it candidate country status, subject to further reforms, as well as the start of accession negotiations with Bosnia and Herzegovina, again depending on the progress of the country’s reforms.
For the long-standing accession candidates in the Western Balkans – Albania, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia – the verdict has been mixed. Commission reports noted progress in some areas, but highlighted a stalling of reforms in Montenegro in particular.
Ukraine and Moldova move forward
Both Ukraine and Moldova were granted EU candidate country status in 2022 after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine pushed the EU to refocus on enlargement.
“Enlargement is a vital policy for the European Union. Completing our union is the call of history, the natural horizon of our union. The achievement of our union also responds to a strong economic and geopolitical logic,” commented the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, on the occasion of the publication of the package.
The European Commission’s November 8 statement spoke of a “powerful reform dynamic” in Ukraine after the country was granted candidate status.
“In light of the results achieved by Ukraine and Moldova, as well as the ongoing reform efforts, the Commission recommended to the Council to open accession negotiations with the two countries,” said a Commission statement. .
It recommends that the EU Council adopts the negotiating frameworks once Ukraine and Moldova have adopted key measures.
He commented on the determination of the Ukrainian government and parliament to move forward on the seven steps outlined in the European Commission’s opinion on Ukraine’s application for EU membership. Ukraine implemented a transparent pre-selection process for Constitutional Court judges, reformed judicial governance bodies and strengthened its anti-corruption initiatives. Furthermore, the country has made significant progress in reducing the influence of oligarchs and aligning with EU standards, even in a war context, demonstrating its commitment to European integration , according to the press release.
Commenting before the reports were published, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said kyiv expected a positive verdict and was already planning its next steps.
“Ukraine will join the EU. And we will achieve this, in particular, through an internal transformation of our state that is fully consistent with the interests of our people,” Zelenskiy wrote on the social network X (formerly Twitter).
The report on Moldova also details progress made in achieving the nine steps required by the Commission. He highlighted the judicial reforms launched by Chisinau as well as the restructuring of anti-corruption bodies and the deoligarchization plan developed by the Moldovan authorities. Reforms in public administration and financial management were continued, alongside public procurement legislation, while the participation of civil society in decision-making and the protection of human rights was strengthened.
“An important step for Moldova. The @EU_Commission recommends the launch of Moldova’s EU accession negotiations, recognizing our commitment to democracy and development,” wrote President Maia Sandu on X.
“Moldova is firmly on the path to EU membership and we will continue to work tirelessly to achieve this goal. »
Georgia Recommended Candidate Status
Georgia was not granted candidate status along with Ukraine and Moldova in 2022, due to concerns about the state of democracy. However, in November 2023, the country was recommended for candidate status, “on the understanding that a number of measures are taken”.
“Georgia has taken steps to strengthen its engagement with the EU and accelerate the pace of reforms in recent months,” the statement said.
He highlighted efforts to respond to the 12 priorities identified by the Commission, notably on gender equality, the fight against violence against women and organized crime. Steps have also been taken towards judicial reforms and the protection of human rights.
“Building a strong political consensus between parties would help combat polarization and accelerate its European journey,” the report adds.
Further efforts needed from Bosnia
Bosnia was also granted candidate status for membership in 2022, becoming the fifth Western Balkan country to become a candidate.
On 8 November, the Commission recommended the opening of accession negotiations once Bosnia has achieved the necessary degree of compliance with the accession criteria.
As for Ukraine, the Commission said the decision to grant candidate status “brought much-needed positive momentum” as the new government began to implement reforms. However, he warned that additional efforts were needed, particularly in terms of the rule of law and judicial, constitutional and electoral reforms.
Commenting on the difficult political situation in Bosnia, the Commission warned: “It is also important to preserve the constitutional order of the country. The secessionist and authoritarian measures introduced in Republika Srpska are not in line with the EU path.”
Montenegro’s progress stalls
Montenegro is the candidate country furthest along the path to EU membership. However, as the Commission highlighted, progress towards EU accession reforms stalled due to polarization and political instability during the period under review.
After months of negotiations, a new government was appointed in October and the Commission said it now expects Podgorica to “quickly demonstrate its capacity and commitment to Montenegro’s path to the EU and that “he implements the reforms linked to EU membership”.
North Macedonia is the longest-running candidate for EU membership, having been granted candidate status in 2005. Its progress has been repeatedly blocked by bilateral disputes with its EU member neighbors, d First Greece, then Bulgaria. The government is now struggling to secure the constitutional changes needed to begin accession negotiations through Parliament, which the Commission says should be a priority.
On a more positive note, the Commission said it had presented the review reports on the “fundamentals cluster” for North Macedonia to the EU Council in July and looked forward to a rapid follow-up , with a view to opening negotiations on the cluster by the end of the year.
“Political polarization and the blockade of Parliament where important legal decisions are made are the most important weaknesses detected in the latest report of the European Commission,” Foreign Minister Bujar Osmani said when releasing the report.
The opening of the first group of negotiations with Albania is also expected by the end of the year. The Commission was positive about Albania’s determination to implement EU reforms, while warning that further efforts are needed in areas such as freedom of expression, issues relating to minorities and property rights.
Conflict between Serbia and Kosovo
Both for Serbia, a candidate for membership, and for potential candidate Kosovo, the Commission underlined the need to normalize their relations in order to progress on the path to the EU.
He pointed out that despite the agreement reached (but not signed) earlier this year as part of the EU-facilitated dialogue between the two countries, “Serbia and Kosovo have not yet started to implement their respective obligations, which are binding on both countries.” political parties and a key element of their European journeys”.
The report also calls on Serbia to align its foreign policy with that of the EU by adhering to sanctions against Russia.
Regarding Kosovo, the Commission recognized the legislative progress made during the period under review, highlighting in particular significant electoral reform. However, there is still work to be done, particularly with regard to the development of an action plan for justice reforms.
No prospect of membership for Turkey
Commenting on Turkey, the report describes the country as a “key partner” of the European Union, but highlights that progress in accession negotiations has stalled since 2018.
“The country has not reversed the negative trend away from the European Union and has continued membership-related reforms to a limited extent,” the statement said.
A report on EU-Turkey relations is due to be submitted to the EU Council in November.