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Serbia, Montenegro 'Could Potentially' Join EU In 2025

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini (center) meets with the prime ministers of the Western Balkans in Brussels on December 18.

Serbia and Montenegro "could potentially be ready" for European Union membership by 2025, according to the final draft of the European Commission's Western Balkans strategy seen by RFE/RL.

However, the document does not mention any timeline for the four other countries in the region that remain outside the bloc -- Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, and Macedonia.

The final draft of the strategy, which is to be made public on February 6, says that "accession negotiations are already well under way" with Montenegro and Serbia.

"With strong political will, the delivery of real and sustained reforms, and definitive solutions to disputes with neighbors, they could potentially be ready for membership in a 2025 perspective," the document reads.

But it warns that "this perspective is extremely ambitious. Whether it is achieved will depend fully on the objective merits and results of each country."

A previous version of the text said Albania and Macedonia could start EU accession negotiations by the end of 2019, and that Bosnia-Herzegovina should open accession talks by 2023.

Those dates have been removed from the final draft following pressure from larger EU member states, EU diplomats told RFE/RL under condition of anonymity.

The text now says that the "commission is ready to prepare recommendations to open accession negotiations with Albania and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, on the basis of fulfilled conditions."

"With sustained effort and engagement, Bosnia-Herzegovina could become a candidate for accession. Kosovo has an opportunity for sustainable progress through implementation of the Stabilization and Association Agreement and to advance on its European path once objective circumstances allow," it adds.

The document also says that a "comprehensive, legally binding normalization agreement" between Serbia and Kosovo is "urgent," while a previous draft said such a deal should come in "2019 at the latest"

The EU-sponsored dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina started in 2011 and has so far produced agreements in areas such as freedom of movement, justice, and the status of the Serbian minority in Kosovo -- as well as enabling Serbia to start EU accession talks and Brussels to sign an Association Agreement with Kosovo.

The draft strategy also states that the EU "will not accept to import [regional] disputes and the instability they could entail."

"Definitive and binding solutions must be found and implemented before a country accedes," it insists.

The document also calls on countries in the Western Balkans to "strengthen significantly" the rule of law.

"Today, the countries show clear elements of state capture, including links with organized crime and corruption at all levels of government and administration, as well as a strong entanglement of public and private interests. All this feeds a sentiment of impunity and inequality," it says.

The final draft adds that all the countries in the region have "uncompetitive economies, with too much undue political interference and an underdeveloped private sector."

Finally, it notes that joining the EU is "a choice" and that "there can be no ambiguity by leaders about where the Western Balkans belong and the direction in which they are heading."

"This is necessary to secure and sustain the support of their own and of EU citizens, and must be reflected in leaders' communications and outreach to citizens," the document says.

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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.