Turkey, Western Balkan countries make accession progress
Hungary has pledged to speed up the integration process of the Western Balkan countries and to keep up the pace of Turkey’s membership negotiations during its six-month EU presidency, which begins on January 1st.
One specific objective Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban cited during a visit to Nicosia on December 13th was to see Croatia wrap up its talks with the Union during his country’s term at the helm of the 27-nation bloc.
“The Hungarians are very much committed to conclude the negotiations with the Croats during our rotating presidency,” he said.
Croatia, one of the five official EU candidates, along with Iceland, Macedonia, Montenegro and Turkey, is the most advanced in the accession process. In late June, it opened the last three of all 33 policy-related chapters included in its entry talks and hopes to close them by the end of this year — bringing the total of provisionally closed chapters to 27.
A document on the bloc’s enlargement policy and the stabilisation and association process for the Western Balkans, which was adopted during the EU leaders’ summit in Brussels last week, praised Croatia for its progress towards fulfilling the entry requirements.
“The [European] Council welcomes Croatia’s good overall progress towards meeting the membership criteria,” the document said. “Conclusion of the negotiations is within reach.”
Croatia hopes to join the EU as its 28th member by 2012. For that to happen, however, it will have to meet the bloc’s standards on judicial independence and fundamental rights. The EU also wants further efforts in fighting corruption, while bolstering public administration reform, refugee returns and war crimes trials in Croatia.
Turkey, which also began its membership talks in October 2005, has been moving at a much slower pace in the negotiation process. It was able to open only one negotiating chapter this year, bringing the total to 13, and has closed only one since the start of its negotiations with Brussels.
The main reasons for the slow pace are Turkey’s sluggish reform progress, as well as its refusal to open its airports and ports to traffic from EU member Cyprus. As a result, negotiations on eight of the chapters have been frozen since late 2006.
“Turkey will be able to accelerate the pace of negotiations by advancing in the fulfilment of benchmarks, meeting the requirements of the negotiating framework and by respecting its contractual obligations towards the EU,” the document adopted last week said.
Macedonia, which became an official EU candidate back in 2005, again failed to get a starting date for its membership talks with the Union this year due to its long-running name dispute with Greece.
In its annual report on Macedonia’s accession progress, published in November, the European Commission (EC) said that the country continues to sufficiently fulfil the bloc’s political criteria and recommended again the opening of entry negotiations.
EU leaders said last week that they share the EC’s assessment and that they are ready to revisit the talks’ issue during the Hungarian chairmanship of the bloc.
This year proved much better for Montenegro’s European integration bid, however, as the country was granted formal candidate status during the EU leaders’ summit in Brussels last week, two years after Podgorica submitted its official application for membership.
To get a starting date for its accession talks, Podgorica must take steps in seven priority areas, as outlined in the EC’s opinion on its application, released in November.