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.