05 November 2008 BrusselsÂ – The European Commission says Croatia is on track to wrap up EU accession talks next year and could join by 2011, however other countries have a lot more work to do. By Gjeraqina Tuhina in Brussels
In an annual report on applicant countries, Croatia got the most positive evaluation from the European Union.
â€œBased on the progress made by Croatia, it should be possible to reach the final stage of the accession negotiations by the end of 2009, provided that the country fulfills all the necessary conditions,â€ the blocâ€™s Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn said.
Balkan Insight sources confirmed that members in the bloc struggled over this line.
European Commission officials who were against this line argued that no country can be promised full membership before the EU settles its institutional matters and agrees a treaty which can allow for further enlargement.
The Lisbon Treaty was rejected by Irish voters in a referendum in June. For the treaty to come into force it requires ratification by all 27 member states of the EU.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy said earlier that the European Union could not accept new members, including Croatia, before adopting the Lisbon Treaty, aimed at overhauling institutions and simplifying decision- making in the expanding bloc.
But sources told Balkan Insight that â€œmore important members of the European Commissionâ€, including Commission President Jose Manuel Barrosso himself were insisting on the line that Croatia could conclude the accession talks and this was later adopted by the Commissioners.
Nevertheless Croatia was asked to work hard to tackle corruption and organised crime, the commission says, noting recent high-profile mafia-style killings such as a car bombing in Zagreb two weeks which killed a prominent journalist.
Macedoniaâ€™s hopes to get a date for the start of accession talks after three years of waiting were dashed after the final version of the report did not recommend any progress in Skopjeâ€™s membership bid.
Rehn admitted that Macedonia has made good progress on judicial and police reforms and continued to consolidate multi-ethnic democracy by implementing the Ohrid Agreement.
â€œHowever, these good results are overshadowed by shortcomings in the political criteria, which are fundamental to the start of accession negotiations,â€ he added.
Although the report was less positive on Serbia than in recent years, Belgrade was nonetheless offered the prospect that it could become a EU candidate next year.
â€œProvided Serbia can carry out the necessary reforms and fulfil the conditions, under the best possible scenario, it might still be able to obtain candidate status in 2009. Serbia has a major role to play in the region,â€ Rehn said.
Serbiaâ€™s full cooperation with the United Nations war crimes tribunal in The Hague, is needed to secure the full implementation of the interim trade agreement with the 27-nation bloc while Belgrade is also expected to arrest and extradite fugitive wartime Bosnian Serb General Ratko Mladic and Goran Hadzic, the wartime leader of Serbs in Croatia during the 1991-1995 wars that ravaged former Yugoslavia.
Albania and Montenegro
Albania and Montenegro both received more positive evaluations compared to previous years.
The progress report stresses that both countries are implementing a key pre-membership deal called the Stabilisation and Association Agreement.
However both countries need to put more effort into strengthening their administrative capacities.
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Bosnia and Herzegovina is described in the light of the heated nationalist political rhetoric has been prevalent among local politicians over the last year.
The Enlargement commissioner reminded that this year the country started talks on visa-free access to the bloc and signed the Stabilisation and Association Agreement but â€œunfortunately, this has not prevented a deterioration of the political situation in the country in recent months.â€
â€œThe challenge for Bosnia’s leaders today is to achieve the degree of political consensus that has delivered progress on EU integration elsewhere in the region,â€ Rehn said.
Kosovo had by far the most negative evaluation on its achievements during the year but the European Commission promises that the feasibility study on Kosovo will be published in autumn 2009 on its progress towards the EU â€œas part of the Western Balkans.â€
Kosovo will remain a focal point in 2009,â€ Rehn pledged.