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The Long Road To Brussels After Croatia

Croatia Pumps Up Border Security Before EU Accession
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WATCH: Before Croatia joined the European Union on July 1, the EU asked it to tighten up its borders to cut off illegal migrants and contraband moving from Southeastern Europe to the West. The process is already well under way, though not without setbacks. (Reuters)

Croatia's entry to the European Union on July 1 is likely to be the last addition for a while. The other countries in the western Balkans could follow suit at some point, but it will likely take at least another 10 years due to political infighting, problems with neighbors, and outstanding issues related to organized crime and corruption. And as for the EU's neighbors to the east, their journey to membership is rockier still.



Montenegro is currently the closest country to EU membership. It became a candidate country in 2010 and late last year began revising its laws to meet EU norms. Completing this process -- which involves closing what the EU calls 35 "chapters" -- could take time. It took Croatia six years to coordinate its legislation and another two to get all the EU member states to ratify the deal. Montenegro also has outstanding issues related to organized crime and corruption. Many experts therefore believe the EU may need to wait until well after 2020 for its next member.


Macedonia became a candidate country in 2005 and Brussels has continually proposed opening accession negotiations, but there is no unanimity on the topic among member states. Greece has been blocking talks due to its conflict with Skopje over Macedonia's name, although there are also faint whispers in Brussels that Greece might engineer some sort of compromise during its EU presidency in the first half of 2014. If that's the case, and if Skopje's reform record remains solid, it might catch up with Montenegro.


The fate of Serbia's EU dream is linked to its relationship with Kosovo. Last year Belgrade became an official candidate and it is due to start negotiations to join the club in January, according to an announcement by EU officials on June 28. The progress of the talks will be contingent on Belgrade implementing its recently signed deal to normalize relations with Pristina. But to become a member it may have to ultimately recognize Kosovo, as the EU is keen to avoid a similar situation to when a divided Cyprus joined in 2004.

ALSO READ: EU Approves Serbia's Bid For Membership Talks



Kosovo will soon start negotiations on a Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA) with the EU, a document already signed by all other former Yugoslav republics. Talks for an SAA can take up to five years. But with five EU member states still not recognizing Kosovo, the SAA will likely remain watered down and the country stuck at the very back of the line.


Bosnia's SAA is ratified and signed. But the agreement has not been put into force because the country has not implemented a 2009 ruling by the European Court of Human Rights striking down a provision in Bosnian law that allows only ethnic Bosniaks, Croats, and Serbs to run for higher office. Without any movement on this issue, Bosnia cannot launch a serious EU membership application and will remain only a potential candidate for the foreseeable future.


Albania could potentially become an official EU candidate country in December. But that will depend on whether the two main political parties can stop squabbling with each other. The EU Commission recommended in the autumn of 2012 that the country be granted candidate status, provided that it implemented several key measures. Tirana, however, has failed to do so on time due to a series of political disputes and deadlocks.


Turkey applied to join what was then called the European Economic Community back in 1987 and became an official EU candidate in 2005. Since then, however, the process has moved very slowly. Only one of the 35 chapters synchronizing key legislation has been closed and almost half of them have been frozen, partly because Ankara failed to open its ports and airports to Cypriot traffic. Ankara and Brussels have agreed that the first chapter in three years, dealing with regional policy, might be opened this autumn. But several member states remain wary about letting a large and predominantly Muslim country with some questionable democratic credentials into the bloc.



Iceland applied to join the EU in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, which bruised the country badly. It started negotiating with the EU in 2010 and the country was on track to join in 2016-17. It has opened negotiations on almost all chapters synchronizing legislation and closed about one-third of them. But as the economic crisis spread to the eurozone and Iceland's own currency recovered, Reykjavik got cold feet. In June, the newly elected center-right government announced that it had put EU negotiations on hold during its mandate -- a move widely supported by the public.


None of the six former Soviet Union countries to the east are candidate countries but Ukraine is currently the closest. It has agreed to an association agreement with the EU that includes a free-trade pact. But whether or not the agreement is signed later this year and whether EU member states ratify it depend on how Kyiv addresses accusations of flaws in its justice system. Armenia, Georgia, and Moldova hope to have the text for their association agreements agreed to in the autumn. Azerbaijan's government seemingly harbors no ambitions to join the EU, whereas Belarus's prospects look grim under the rule of authoritarian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka.
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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.

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