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In focus week on the Western Balkans

The last three plenary sessions of the European Parliament (EP) featured one recurring policy issue: EU enlargement, reason enough to focus this week on the countries of the Western Balkans, and their varying progress towards EU membership. Assessing the progress of countries waiting in the queue to join is carried out in an annual exercise by the European Commission. The EP Foreign Affairs Committee scrutinizes these “progress reports”, and our service helps Members identify the issues at stake pre-vote through a selection of plenary briefings.

Serbia, Kosovo and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia

Serbia recently hit the news, as official accession negotiations were kicked off in an inter-governmental conference. This was deemed a reward by many for Serbia’s commitment to normalize relations with its former province of Kosovo, in a deal brokered by High Representative Catherine Ashton last April. Despite the applause for improving ties with Kosovo, great challenges remain for Serbia, as our briefing from mid-January highlights.

Whilst the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia is theoretically since 2009 well advanced on its EU path, accession talks have been hampered by a dispute with Greece over the name. This Gordian knot seems hard to untie!

Kosovo is also pursuing a European future, despite not being recognised as a sovereign state by five EU member states (and Serbia). The Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) currently under negotiation is meant to pave the way. However, corruption and organised crime remain issues of concern, as do the parallel structures in north Kosovo.

Bosnia and Herzegovina ….  ethnic division?

© dinosmichail / Fotolia

And how far is the “potential candidate” Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) nearing EU membership, you may wonder? Well, to be honest, the title of our briefing “Bosnia & Herzegovina: a continuing standstill” says it all… Indeed BiH struggles in many areas; ethnic discrimination is wide-spread, while corruption and organized crime remain prevalent.

A result of the Dayton Agreement was the creation of the entity Republika Srpska, now also a source of division inside Bosnia with its quest for more independence.

Census has been an ongoing and contentious issue in Bosnia since the war, not only among Croats. These three brief analyses illustrate the extent to which ethnicity is an issue in the Western Balkans. Some two decades after the conflicts in former Yugoslavia, which saw the forced displacement of two million persons in the region, durable solutions for thousands of refugees and internally displaced persons are still awaited. Our summary on the so-called “Sarajevo process” illustrates how serious this problem is and what initiatives are being taken.

EU assistance in figures

The EU provides substantial funding to enlargement countries to prepare for accession, through the Pre-Accession Instrument (IPA II). The total financial envelope amounts to nearly 12 billion € (2014-20). Our briefing gives you the details on this and other EU financial instruments for external action.

Talking enlargement

Pre-accession, SAA, Copenhagen criteria, candidate country, progress report – enlargement policy truly has a unique terminology. Should you wish to understand these terms or dive into procedural enlargement stuff, we recommend our not-so-recent but still very relevant briefing on The EU accession procedure.

And what about Albania and Montenegro?

This year they did not get a briefing of their own. That’s why we would like to remind you of our in-house subscriptions to specific sources providing news from the region: Balkan Insight, Transitions Online, and Courrier des Balkans. Some of their articles are freely available on the Internet, while premium content is not.

In addition we compile a weekly newsletter on Montenegro (and Kosovo) combining links to documents from EU, national institutions, think tanks and NGOs with links to press in English, French and German (only available if you work in the EP).

To stay informed of EU relations with the Western Balkans, MEP offices and EP staff can subscribe to a variety of e-mail alerts to get either our in-house analysis and hand-picked external info sources delivered or news alerts, covering news from European and National press agencies, direct to their inbox.

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