The European Parliament adopted yesterday (14 March) resolutions on three countries, representing extremes in terms of their EU accession process: Iceland, which moves on a fast track; Macedonia, the accession talks of which are blocked for a seventh year due to a conflict with Greece; and Bosnia and Herzegovina, where the reform process is stalled.
The resolutions, totaling 27 pages, represent a thorough analysis of the situation in each country, with fewer common features compared to the last waves of EU enlargement. The longest resolutions concern Macedonia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, with a lengthy series of concerns and recommendations.
Bosnia and Herzegovina, a 'difficult' case
Enlargement Commissioner Štefan Füle presented the Commission's positions on each of the three hopefuls. He said it was "difficult to be positive" on Bosnia and Herzegovina, a country which is slowly emerging from a year of political paralysis and unwillingness of the three ethnic communities to forge a common future.
Füle said that for the country to be able to move toward implementation of its Stabilisation and Association Agreement, constitutional changes need to be passed in order to make sure that the country would exist as a single state.
Parliament also noted concern about "extremist threats" in the Western Balkans region and called on the authorities of Bosnia and Herzegovina "to combat extremism, religious hatred and violence in close collaboration with the international community".
'Name dispute' looms large over Skopje
On Macedonia, which Füle diplomatically called the "former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia", he said he was travelling to Skopje the same day to launch a "high-level association dialogue", which appears as a replacement of accession talks, which are prevented from starting because of the country's running name dispute with Greece.
Although the former Yugoslav republic became an EU candidate in 2005, Macedonia has for seven years been unable to start accession negotiations because over Greek concerns over the use of the "Republic of Macedonia".
Replying to the call by MEPs that the EU should take the lead in helping solve the "name issue", an effort currently under the auspices of the United Nations, Füle said that this could be possible only if both sides made such a request.
MEPs want Skopje to be given a date to start accession negotiations. The resolution says the European Council’s failure to set one is causing "legitimate frustration and dissatisfaction" in public opinion.
"This is a country which belongs inside the EU and accession talks must start without delay", said BritishMEP Richard Howitt of the Socialists and Democrats, who was the rapporteur on the resolution.
At the same time, MEPs list a series of concerns with regard to the policies of the government in Skopje, including its "antiquisation" - forging an ancient history at the expense of the Greek cultural inheritance, "which threatens to increase tensions with neighbour countries and create new internal divisions".
MEPs also encouraged Skopje to work with Bulgaria "with the aim of contributing to an objective, fact-based interpretation of history". Sofia accuses Skopje of distorting history for nationalistic purposes, and of stealing glorious episodes of its history.
Iceland: Speed is not a goal in itself
On Iceland, Parliament noted the "political divisions" over EU membership but expressed the hope that the country would join the Union. Iceland is one of Europe’s oldest democracies and MEPs are pleased with its progress towards meeting EU standards.
Since the official opening of the negotiations with Iceland in July 2010, 11 chapters have been opened. The ambition of the government in Reykjavik is to open up the remaining chapters, if not all then almost all, no later than the June accession conference under the Danish presidency.
But Füle made it clear that the Commission was aware of the difficulty that could pose certain chapters, and that the speed of talks was not a goal in itself.
"Let us be clear: 2012 will be a decisive year as we are getting ready to start, as soon as possible, negotiations on some of the core chapters, such as on fisheries, agriculture, food safety and environment. In doing so, we will always privilege quality over speed," he said.
Parliament rapporteur on Macedonia MEP Richard Howitt (S&D, UK) pointed out at the progress in Skopje in several fields.
"This is a country which is about to Chair the Regional Cooperation Council. It hosted the meeting of Ministers of European Integration from across the Balkans in the wake of this year's Commission Progress Reports. It is a country which has excellent relations with both Serbia and Kosovo," he said.
Howitt also said recent incidents of inter-ethnic conflict in the country should be heeded in Brussels: "As I was told in the country: Like a bicycle, for stability you need to keep moving forward," he added. The European Parliament backed Richard Howitt MEP's resolution by 582 votes to 70.
The former rapporteur on Macedonia MEP Eduard Kukan (EPP, Slovakia) said:
"We have adopted a good and balanced Resolution. I fully support the key message, calling on the Council to set a date for opening accession negotiations with Macedonia without further delay."
"I am convinced that opening the negotiations will trigger additional reforming efforts in the country. … I fully support the Commission's initiative to lead the High Level Dialogue focused on the most difficult areas of integration. Full engagement in issues such as judiciary reform, media freedom, the fight against corruption, or electoral reform, is a good investment in future negotiations", he contined.
Concerning the name issue, Kukan noted: "The EU should be more supportive in the process of finding a solution to the outstanding issue between Greece and Macedonia. It is in the EU's interest - but above all in the interest of both countries - to put this question behind us and concentrate on really pressing issues."
Rapporteur on Bosnia and Herzegovina Doris Pack (EPP, Germany) welcomed the formation of the new state government, hoping that this will spur the necessary constitutional and other reforms.
"In six weeks, more has happened than we could have expected in Bosnia and Herzegovina," she said.
The European Parliament also spoke out in favour of plans to consider dissolving the office of the High Representative for Bosnia-Herzegovina. "The international community must show its trust in the future of Bosnia-Herzegovina by gradually handing over competences to the new Government in Sarajevo. We need a roadmap to allow Bosnian authorities to take over more governmental responsibility on a step-by-step basis", the MEP explained.
Now that the EU has reinforced its presence in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Parliament wonders about the international community's future role. It invites it "to consider the necessity of, and find solutions" to "pave the way for the dissolution of the Office of the High Representative (OHR)."
"Progress is visible," said rapporteur on Iceland Cristian Dan Preda (EPP, Romania) in the debate. "This last year has shown that the discussions have gained momentum." MEPs point out that the Icesave dispute has not been settled but say it should not hold up Iceland’s membership. They point out that the EU and Iceland still disagree on mackerel fishing quotas and on whale-hunting, which is banned in the EU. They also call for more progress in tackling state intervention, particularly in the banking, energy, air and transport sectors.