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EU Makes Balkan Recommendations, Says More Work Is Needed

A woman in downtown Belgrade walks past graffiti that says "EU?"
BRUSSELS -- A draft of the annual European Commission report on EU enlargement has outlined the progress and setbacks experienced by the six candidate and potential candidate countries from the Western Balkans as well as Iceland and Turkey.

The provisional document, which has been seen by RFE/RL, has also put forward a number of recommendations for the aspirant countries.

This year, Serbia and Kosovo, in particular, were commended for their joint efforts to normalize relations between each other and Brussels.

Elsewhere in the Balkans, Bosnia-Herzegovina was taken to task for its stagnant political situation, which is deemed to be damaging its accession prospects.

Macedonia fared better, as the report backed starting accession negotiations with Skopje for the fifth time in a row despite the fact that the country received some scathing criticism for its media climate.

Montenegro, which is thought to be the Balkan country that has advanced the furthest toward joining the EU, was told that it should do more to reform its judiciary and fight organized crime.

Kosovo-Serbia Progress

Serbia has been singled out for particular praise for reaching a deal with Kosovo earlier this year, but the draft report also highlighted the need for improvements in other areas.

The document described a deal in April between Belgrade and Pristina to normalize relations and not block each others' path to EU membership as "historic."

But the report has also underlined the need for continued talks on normalization.

It says Belgrade has much work to do when it comes to the role political influence plays in judicial appointments, its track record in prosecuting and convicting perpetrators of corruption, and the protection of whistle-blowers.

The report also bemoans the banning of a gay-pride parade in Belgrade.

Moreover, it noted that Serbia's unemployment rate and budget deficit remain very high.

Serbia became a European Union candidate in 2012 and hopes to start accession negotiations by January.

The report also says Brussels hopes to start negotiations on a new political agreement with Kosovo in late October and to conclude it by next summer.

According to the document, work on a Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA), which would upgrade Pristina's relationship with Brussels, is a reward for concluding the normalization deal with Serbia.

The draft report stresses the importance of orderly local elections in November.

Furthermore, it says Kosovo needs more reforms on the rule of law and the judiciary, while it should also provide concrete evidence of results in its fight against organized crime.

In addition to this, Pristina has been told that it must address a backlog of court cases, enforce court rulings, and provide security for judges, prosecutors, and witnesses.

Bosnia Stalemate

Brussels has also criticized Bosnia-Herzegovina for a political stalemate in Sarajevo that is hurting the country's bid to join the European Union.

According to the EC's draft report, Bosnia-Herzegovina "is at a standstill in the European integration process while other countries in the region are moving ahead."

Last week, Bosnian leaders failed to agree on two demands from Brussels for further EU integration.

One is the issue of discrimination against national minorities in election processes.

Another is the need for a single mechanism in Bosnia-Herzegovina to coordinate the country's relations with the EU.

Brussels is launching a procedure that could cost Sarajevo 47 million euros of EU funding.

It also could prevent the country's Stabilization and Association Agreement from coming into force.

Unresolved Macedonia Issues

Elsewhere, the document indicates that the European Commission is prepared to recommend the opening of European Union accession talks with Macedonia for the fifth time in succession.

Macedonia has been an official EU candidate for eight years, but its EU integration process has stalled because of its name dispute with Greece -- a disagreement that has remained unresolved for two decades.

The draft report also criticizes Skopje for ongoing corruption and the lack of competence of Macedonian courts.

Media freedom was another area of concern in the country.

The report notes that media diversity has been declining.

It also says remaining media remain highly polarized, often along political lines, leading to poor journalistic standards.

More Montenegrin Reform Needed

Brussels has recommended that Montenegro should implement further reforms of its judiciary and the rule of law.

In the draft report, the European Commission also highlights the need for more professionalism and transparency in the civil service.

Likewise, the document says more needs to be done to improve the independence and accountability of the judiciary, while also recommending merit-based appointments.

The report urges the systematic investigation and prosecution of corruption cases and organized crime, including high level cases.

Of the six countries in the Western Balkans still outside the bloc, Montenegro has currently made the most progress toward EU accession.

It opened European Union accession negotiations last year and it has provisionally closed two of the 35 policy chapters in its rulebook that must be harmonized with EU laws.
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    Rikard Jozwiak

    Rikard Jozwiak is the Europe editor for RFE/RL in Prague, focusing on coverage of the European Union and NATO. He previously worked as RFE/RL’s Brussels correspondent, covering numerous international summits, European elections, and international court rulings. He has reported from most European capitals, as well as Central Asia.