Balkans 2008: The road to EU and NATO1 January 2009 | 05:57 | Информационна Агенция Фокус
“The EU perspective for the Western Balkan countries is extremely important for the stability and prosperity in the region and in the EU in general. The potential candidates for EU membership, from the Western Balkans, should be able to receive a statute of membership candidates through their solid progress in the economic and political reforms. This will happen according to their level of progress,” said the European Commissioner for Enlargement Ollie Rehn.
Macedonia: No NATO membership, and no date for EU membership negotiations
2008 started promisingly for Skopje, because it was Slovenia’s term for EU Presidency. One of the priorities of the Slovenian Presidency was the progress of the EU perspective of Macedonia. This however never happened. Despite the fact that Skopje had a certain progress in meeting the EU membership criteria, some of the EU member states were very reserved towards the membership of Macedonia. The reason behind their concerns was not only the continuing tension between Macedonians and Albanians, but also EU’s enlargement fatigue. Thus the announcement of the date for the start of the EU accession talks with Macedonia was postponed.
Macedonia was also unsuccessful in its attempt to join NATO. The country did not receive an invitation for membership at the top-level meeting of the Alliance in Bucharest in April. Greece used its right for a veto with the motive that it has not managed to reach an agreement with Macedonia regarding the official name of the country. Yet another year the issue with the name of Macedonia (officially recognized as FYROM (Former Yugoslavian Republic of Macedonia) remains unsolved. USA elected a new president – Barack Obama, who is believed to not put the conflict between Athens and Skopje in his priority list, when he steps in office. The Macedonian negotiation team regarding this issue was changed. The government of Nikola Gruevski decided to file a claim against Greece in the International Court in The Hague for violation of the agreement from 1995, which stated that Greece should not impede Skopje’s membership in international organizations under the name FYROM. The decision of the government however was not welcomed both in Macedonia and in other countries. Macedonian President Branko Crvenkovski announced that this claim would only be a waste of precious time. According to experts, the legal procedures in The Hague could last for as long as two to five years.
Turkey: The door of the EU remains slightly ajar
Turkey managed to make a small step towards its EU membership with the opening of another two, out of the 35, chapters, which all candidate states must close successfully during the negotiations. However nobody expects Turkey to become a member of the EU in the near future. Ankara has not yet normalized its relations with Cyprus – a member state of the EU, and the fact that France, which is one of the countries that are against Turkey’s EU integration, held the EU presidency in the second half of the year did not help. Turkey’s hopes for progress in their EU accession process lie now with the presidency of the Czech Republic.
The annual report of the European Commission on Turkey’s progress stated clearly that Turkey, unlike Croatia (as the two countries started their pre-accession talks together in 2005), had slowed down its reforms. The comments on the report of the European Commission underline Brussels’ demand on Turkey speeding up their reforms, as the words of the European Commissioner for Enlargement Ollie Rehn towards Ankara “to speed up the reforms” are quoted very often.
After the report was issued, Ankara made it clear that it was determined to fulfill all necessary requirements for its EU membership. The press office of the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs released a declaration stating, “Turkey’s full EU membership is our strategic aim. Turkey will continue to fulfill all necessary requirements for this aim.” The media in Western Europe paid attention to the fact that Turkey’s statement came after the conclusion of the European Commission that Turkey, Serbia, Albania, Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, and Kosovo have not made sufficient progress in their reforms, required for a EU membership, and that these countries would not join the 27-county Union in the near future.
The unbiased evaluation, both in Turkey and the EU, states that there are serious differences and a slowing down of the pace of the reforms, which raises the question whether the ruling party – AKP, has the ability to govern with EU-integration orientation. There are some opinions that if there is no serious change after the local elections in March 2009 that would mean that towards the end of 2009 Turkey’s EU membership project would be practically frozen and abandoned.
Montenegro: Candidate for EU and NATO membership
Montenegro filed its request for EU membership a few days before the end of 2008, and a little bit earlier – its request for the Membership Action Plan of NATO.
The Prime Minister of Montenegro Milo Djukanovic handed Montenegro’s request to receive the statute of a country candidate for EU membership to French President Nicolas Sarkozy on December 15. The government of Montenegro decided to make this step during the French presidency of the EU. Montenegro and the EU signed the Stabilisation and Association Agreements, which is a key step towards synchronizing with the EU standards, in 2007.
Milo Djukanovic handed Montenegro’s request for participation in the Membership Action Plan of NATO to the Alliance’s Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer in November. Djukanovic is optimistic for the success of Montenegro’s NATO integration, since de Hoop Scheffer confirmed that the Alliance, unlike the EU, feels no “enlargement fatigue”.
Following the standard procedure in such cases, NATO’s Secretary General will present Montenegro’s request for the Membership Action Plan to the members of the Alliance, which should decide whether to accept it.
Montenegro joined the so called Adriatic Charter, signed by Albania, Croatia, and Macedonia under the aegis of USA in 2003. Bosnia and Herzegovina together with Montenegro became official members of the Adriatic Charter in December 2008.
Serbia will put forward its EU membership request in 2009
Serbia will put forward its EU membership request in the first six months of 2009, during Czech Republic’s presidency, Serbian Prime Minister Mirko Cvetkovic announced a few days before the end of the year.
Belgrade realizes that the integration process will be difficult. The Stabilisation and Association Agreements between Serbia and the EU are not working at the moment. Cvetkovic hopes that the Stabilisation and Association Agreements will be unblocked, but even if that did not happen, Serbia will still put forward its request for EU membership. Belgrade signed the Stabilisation and Association Agreements in April, but they are yet to take effect. The EU wants to see “full cooperation” between Belgrade and the International Criminal Tribunal in The Hague, as Serbia should arrest Ratko Mladic, former Chief of Staff of the Serbian Army during the Bosnian War, and extradite him to the international court. The Netherlands refuses to lift its veto over the agreements before Mladic and the former leader of the Croatian Serbs - Goran Hadzic.
Belgrade received an action plan for participation in the Partnership for Peace programme from the Foreign Ministers of NATO. The ministers said that the partnership between NATO and Serbia would continue through political consultations and practical cooperation. The Alliance praised Serbia’s efforts that led to the arrest of Radovan Karadzic and his extradition to the International Tribunal in The Hague, urging it to follow up with the arrest of Ratko Mladic.
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