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Ministry of Foreign Affairs on the 2021 Enlargement Package

On 19 October, the European Commission published the Enlargement Package for the Western Balkan countries and Turkey, which provides an overview and assessment of the situation across key areas of the necessary reform progress.

Following the EU-Western Balkans Summit held in Brdo pri Kranju on 6 October 2021, which reiterated the European perspective for the Western Balkan countries, the European Commission yesterday published the Enlargement Package for the countries of the region. In the accompanying report, the European Commission underlined that the Brdo Declaration sent an important signal to the Western Balkan partners that their future lies in the EU. Moreover, the Declaration’s commitment to ensuring that EU-Western Balkans summits are now a regular fixture is also an important undertaking that will provide a format for political dialogue at the highest level in the future.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs agrees with the European Commission’s assessment that a credible enlargement policy represents a geostrategic investment in peace, stability, security and economic growth across Europe. Furthermore, the revised enlargement methodology adopted in early 2020 has made the negotiation process more predictable, credible, dynamic and has granted the EU member states more influence in the negotiations.

Slovenia supports the European Commission’s efforts to bridge the economic and development gap between the EU and the Western Balkans. In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, the EU has come together to mobilise EUR 3.3 billion in immediate assistance to the region, with a particular focus on the health sector and the economic recovery of the region. The EU treats Western Balkan partners as a priority, including by giving them access to a number of initiatives and instruments targeted at EU member states. Nearly 3 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been provided to partners in the Western Balkans. The Economic and Investment Plan for the Western Balkans, with EUR 9 billion from the Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance (IPA III), will provide an important stimulus for partners from the region. It is of the utmost importance for the countries of the region to have access to the Western Balkans Guarantee Facility, which provides an EU guarantee for investment loans in the amount of approximately EUR 20 billion. The plan aims to foster the region’s long-term and sustainable economic transformation based on green and digital transition and improved connectivity within the region and with the EU. 

According to the documents, the enlargement policy remains centred around the following priorities: the rule of law, fundamental rights, the strengthening of democratic institutions, public administration reform and economic development. Additional measures of progress include good neighbourly relations and strengthened regional cooperation. In this context, it is particularly important to strive to resolve the issues of the past and the implementation of international law obligations.

As regards the review and assessment of the state of play of the negotiations by Western Balkan countries, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs shares the view of the European Commission that the delay in the adoption of the Negotiating Framework for Albania and North Macedonia negatively impacts the enlargement process and the credibility of the EU. As the country holding the Presidency, Slovenia will work to implement the March 2020 Council decision to open negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia with a view to holding the first intergovernmental conferences with both countries this year. Slovenia agrees with the European Commission’s assessment that Albania and North Macedonia fulfil the conditions for opening accession negotiations.     

In Montenegro, the pace of progress in the negotiation process remains tied to the progress on the rule of law. In this context, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs shares the European Commission’s position that Montenegro has made progress in the rule of law chapters; however, it still needs to step up its efforts in the areas of the fight against corruption and organised crime and freedom of the media and expression. Implementation of the commitments made remains crucial.

When it comes to Serbia, the report points to the assessment that further progress in the rule of law and the normalisation of relations with Kosovo is essential. Furthermore, Serbia needs to continue and accelerate reforms in the areas of judicial independence, media freedom, the fight against corruption and organised crime and the treatment of war crimes. Slovenia expects Serbia to make every effort to implement reforms and reduce the backlog in negotiations. Based on the European Commission’s assessment that Serbia is ready to open Negotiating Chapters 3 (Competitiveness and Inclusive Growth) and 4 (Green Agenda and Sustainable Connectivity), Slovenia will seek consensus among member states on this issue.

For Bosnia and Herzegovina’s progress on the European path, the key activities will be the implementation in the coming months of the 14 priorities identified by the European Commission in its Opinion on the application for EU membership, which the Council of the EU endorsed in December 2019. These are complex tasks, which will require expertise, but above all, unwavering political will. Slovenia expects Bosnia and Herzegovina to make all efforts to implement the required 14 priorities.

Kosovo has continued to show its willingness to engage and commit to the European path, although it is beset with challenges. The normalisation of bilateral relations with Serbia is crucial in this respect. Slovenia encourages Kosovo to engage in the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue and to meet the expectations and the required criteria. At the same time, the European Commission estimates that Kosovo has met all visa liberalisation benchmarks. 

Turkey continues to be an important partner of the EU in areas of common interest, including in tackling irregular migration. However, the European Commission estimates that the country has experienced adverse developments in the field of democracy and the rule of law and serious shortcomings in the functioning of democratic institutions. It also underlines that Turkey’s activities in the Eastern Mediterranean must not lead to the destabilisation of the region. The EU looks forward to Turkey’s active participation in a comprehensive settlement of the Cyprus dispute within the UN framework, in line with the UN Security Council resolutions and the principles on which the EU is founded. Slovenia supports the dialogue on the rule of law and fundamental rights, which remains an integral part of EU-Turkey relations.