Written by Velina Lilyanova,
In November 2016, the European Commission presented its annual enlargement package, consisting of a communication that takes stock of the implementation of the 2015 multiannual strategy and a set of reports on the Western Balkan countries and on Turkey in their capacity of candidates or potential candidates for EU membership. Since 2015, the Commission has been applying a new reporting methodology aimed at enhanced transparency and comparability among the aspirant countries. In 2016, it shifted the timeframe for publishing the next enlargement package from the autumn of 2017 to the spring of 2018, to better align it with the release of the economic reform programmes and the increased focus on economic governance.
In 2016, the Commission continued prioritising complex and long-term reforms as part of its ‘fundamentals first’ approach. Its main message was that enlargement policy continued to deliver results and promote reforms, albeit slowly and unevenly. The EU’s reconfirmed commitment to the Western Balkan countries’ accession processes was duly reflected in the Slovak Presidency programme, which stressed the importance of enlargement policy for the EU’s own political and economic stability.
Amidst a host of increasing complexities and declining public support, concerns have been raised that enlargement policy might be side-lined. Thus, while the EU needs to keep up momentum, a significant part of the responsibility rests with the countries themselves. The region needs political will to keep reforms on the agenda and deliver results. In this context, regional cooperation and good neighbourly relations are once again brought to the fore as an indispensable means of re-energising common reform priorities and maximising the benefits for the region.
Read the complete briefing on ‘2016 Enlargement package: Prospects for the Western Balkans‘.