EU advances membership talks for Montenegro, Serbia

From left to right: Johannes Hahn, Commissioner for European Neighbourhood Policy & Enlargement Negotiations; Aleksandar Pejovic, Minister of European Affairs of Montenegro; Sven Mikser, Estonian Minister for Foreign Affairs. [Council]

The EU on Monday (11 December) opened new chapters in its membership talks with Montenegro and Serbia, countries which European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker says he expects to join the bloc by 2025.

Accession negotiations, which typically take years, are split into 35 “chapters” covering areas such as the economy, energy, rule of law and human rights, to help the joining country align its practices with European Union standards.

The bloc opened two new chapters for Montenegro, covering freedom of movement for workers and services. It means Montenegro now has 30 chapters open.

“The two chapters open today are at the very core of the European Union,” EU Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn said at a press conference.

Aleksandar Pejović, Montenegro’s European affairs minister, said the developments encourage “Montenegro to successfully continue with the implementation of reforms.”

Montenegro began accession talks with Brussels in 2012 and in June this year joined NATO in the face of bitter opposition from Moscow, which regards expansion of the alliance — and the EU — into its traditional sphere of influence as a threat.

Russia threatens retaliation as Montenegro becomes 29th NATO member

Montenegro became the 29th member of NATO on Monday (6 June) and was praised by the United States for sticking to its path of joining the Western military alliance in spite of Russian pressure.

The EU also opened two chapters for Serbia, on company law and external relations, bringing to 12 the total number of chapters open for the country, which has been in EU membership talks since January 2014.

“The opening of the two chapters today is a merited achievement of Serbia,” Hahn said at a later press conference with Jadranka Joksimović, Serbia’s minister of European integration.

“Serbia’s EU perspective is firm and real,” Hahn added.

But he warned: “Further progress is conditioned on focus on rule of law and normalisation with Kosovo.”

Joksimović said the opening of the chapters was a signal to investors that “Serbia is a stable country.”

Juncker has said that there will be no more enlargement of the EU during his term, which ends in 2019, but that after that, expanding into the Balkans is vital to maintain “stability in our neighbourhood”.

Juncker waves 'credible EU prospects' at Balkans, but no fast membership

European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker stayed true to form on the EU’s enlargement prospects in his annual address on Wednesday (13 September), calling for a “credible enlargement perspective” for the Western Balkans while ruling out any fast track to membership.

Elsewhere in the region, Macedonia and Albania are candidate countries to join the EU.

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A new study looking into the practical, legal and technical aspects of further EU expansion has concluded that only one country, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, could meet the criteria for joining the bloc before 2023.

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