The current enlargement agenda of the Western Balkans countries includes among others a set of annual reports adopted by the European Commission. The report indicates where the countries of the Western Balkans and Turkey stand in preparing to meet EU accession requirements, and sets out what needs to be done to address the remaining challenges.

Commissioner Johannes Hahn, during the presentation of the package noted:

“The EU enlargement process, covering the Western Balkans and Turkey, is a powerful tool to strengthen the rule of law and human rights in these countries. It also boosts the economy and promotes regional cooperation. A clear European perspective gradually transforms our partner countries and strengthens stability around our Union. Our firm commitment to EU enlargement, and to the conditions it involves, is therefore a long-term investment in Europe’s own security and prosperity”.

In its enlargement strategy, the Commission reaffirms the strong focus on the principle of “fundamentals first” in the accession process. Core issues of the rule of law, fundamental rights, strengthening democratic institutions, including public administration reform, as well as economic development and competitiveness remain key priorities. Progress is being made, in particular with the adoption of relevant legislation and establishment of necessary administrative structures. However, across the board effective implementation is very often lacking.

In this regards major challenges still remain ahead the road to integration for the Western Balkans. Issues regarding the rule of law, such as insufficient independent judiciary, organized crime and corruption, fundamental rights, freedom of expression are only few of the main areas where these countries need to further work on. Furthermore, in regard to the practical implementation, the public administration reform needs to be pursued and the functioning of democratic institutions to anchor reforms across society, is also needed.

Regarding their economies, most of the Balkan countries face significant challenges in terms of economic governance and competitiveness. For this reason, the Commission has put particular emphasis on regional cooperation and boosting regional economic development and connectivity. The overarching enlargement strategy is now multi annual, covering the period of the Commission’s mandate and in addition to reporting on progress. These new reports provide clearer guidance for what the countries are expected to do in both the short and long term, and use high assessment scales to facilitate greater scrutiny of reforms by all stakeholders.