The European Commission will next month recommend that member states open membership talks with Montenegro, but not with Albania.
The college of commissioners debated the matter yesterday (27 October) and will adopt the recommendation on 9 November, together with the annual progress reports on nine would-be EU members.
Albania submitted its membership application in April 2009, but the country has been paralysed by an opposition boycott of parliamentary proceedings since the general election in June that year.
Other problems include weak administrative capacity and serious problems with crime and corruption, but the parliamentary stand-off is the main reason for the Commission’s decision not to recommend opening membership talks.
“We do not have much room for manoeuvre,” an official said. “The political deadlock tells us something about Albania’s political readiness [for membership talks].”
For Montenegro, which applied in December 2008, the member states will have to reach a unanimous decision if they are to follow the Commission’s proposal.
Gordana Ðurovic, Montenegro’s minister for European integration, told European Voice that a positive decision on her country’s candidacy status was “possible” at the summit of EU leaders in December.
She acknowledged that her country was battling against negative perceptions. “Despite the legacy of the 1990s” – when Montenegro was the sole republic of Yugoslavia to remain part of a joint state with Serbia – “organised crime in Montenegro is not too deep,” she said.
She added that judicial reform and the fight against organised crime and corruption were priorities for her government, but also conceded that the EU’s expectations were “higher than in 2007”, when Bulgaria and Romania – countries with similar problems – joined.
An EU official described Montenegro as posing “the huge issue of a small country with big corruption”, and underlined that there was no desire or intention to fast-track any applicant.
On Monday (25 October), EU foreign ministers referred Serbia’s membership application to the Commission for its formal assessment, a process that typically takes around one year. The ministers agreed the step despite misgivings by the Netherlands, which believes that the referral will ease pressure on Serbia to arrest the last two men wanted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY).
But the ministers also stressed that “at each stage of Serbia’s path towards EU accession, further steps will be taken when the Council [of Ministers] unanimously decides that full co-operation with the ICTY exists or continues to exist”.
This codifies the Union’s past practice of taking steps concerning enlargement only with the consensus of all EU member states.
Prior to Monday’s meeting, several member states had taken the view that the Netherlands could be outvoted on Serbia, an option that will now no longer be available.
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