The CoR has a statutory role in EU enlargement policy via the Joint Consultative Committees (JCCs) where the CoR represents the EU. Its integrated EU enlargement approach also includes Working Groups (WGs) for countries without JCCs of their own yet, as well as the annual flagship Enlargement Day event. In addition, the CoR monitors the enlargement process via the adoption of regular opinions – such as this one - on each annual enlargement package of the European Commission.
Following the applications for EU membership submitted by Ukraine, the Republic of Moldova (hereinafter ʻMoldovaʼ) and Georgia in spring 2022, on 17 June 2022, upon Council’s invitation, the Commission presented its Opinions. The Commission recommended to give the perspective to become a member of the European Union to Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia and to grant candidate status to Ukraine and Moldova on the understanding that steps are taken in a number of areas, and to Georgia once a number of priorities have been addressed. The European Council of 23-24 June 2022 took a historic decision and fully endorsed the Commission’s recommendations. The European perspective opens a clear path forward - anchored in the EU values of freedom, democracy and rule of law - to all three applicants. The Commission continues to stand ready to advise and support Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia in this process, in line with EU enlargement policy.
The full and unequivocal commitment to the EU membership perspective of the Western Balkans was reconfirmed by EU on 23-24 June 2022. The EU called for the acceleration of the EU integration process. The European Council invited the Commission, the High Representative and the Council to further advance the progressive integration between the European Union and the region already during the enlargement process itself in a reversible and merit-based manner. This corresponds to the revised methodology. The Commission is committed, more than ever, to bring the entire region within the European Union.
The Commission welcomes that the first Intergovernmental Conferences formally opening the accession negotiations process with Albania and North Macedonia took place on 19 July 2022. The Commission welcomes the strategic priority of the new Montenegrin government to accelerate the country's EU accession negotiations. This is a moment of opportunity for Montenegro that should not be missed. The Commission also welcomes that, with 100% alignment with the EU’s common foreign and security policy, Montenegro vocally stands on the same side as the EU. This is an important signal of commitment to the EU. Concerning Serbia, reforms need to continue, building on the constitutional reform referendum held in January 2022. In the current context, Serbia’s positions on the Russian aggression against Ukraine will be an essential element to consider. The latest European Council (23-24 June 2022) gave a positive signal regarding the possibility to grant candidate status to Bosnia and Herzegovina. This requires Bosnia and Herzegovina to deliver on a substantial set of reforms as also outlined in the 2019 Commission Opinion on the country’s application for EU membership. The Commission continues to stand behind its assessment of July 2018 that Kosovo* has fulfilled all visa liberalisation benchmarks set out in the Visa Liberalisation Roadmap from 2012.
The Commission has taken measures to develop a policy approach that includes dimensions of multi-level governance into the public administration reform framework.
The Commission will continue to use TAIEX at both central and local level throughout the Western Balkans. Building on the successful outcome of the 2018-2020 pilot in support of local authorities in Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia, TAIEX continues to support local authorities in all Western Balkans. Activities are aligned with the priorities of the Economic Investment Plan (EIP), which are taken forward also at the municipal level. The Commission remains committed to using the expertise of EU Member States through the Twinning Instrument, funded from the bilateral programmes, as a proven tool of capacity building and expertise exchange.
The Commission will work with both central and, where appropriate, local authorities in the Western Balkans in order to optimise the use of the Instrument for Pre-accession Assistance (IPA III) and Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance for Rural Development (IPARD) funds, including where relevant the LEADER approach. Within IPARD, it is underlined that it is up to the beneficiaries to select the most appropriate measures for implementation under IPARD, including measure 5 ‘implementation of local development strategies - LEADER approach’. Particular emphasis will be placed upon faster implementation as well as outreach to all levels of governance. The TAIEX instrument allows exchange of best practices among local and regional authorities. In addition, the EU funded Regional School of Public Administration, the Support for Improvement in Government and Management (SIGMA) programme and bilateral projects can provide support in this regard if
Western Balkan partners consider this a strategic priority. The Commission encourages but cannot oblige partners to work on this, having in mind that the choice of local level participatory budgeting falls within the autonomy of EU Member States among whom it is not widespread.
The Commission welcomes that the first Intergovernmental Conferences formally opening the accession negotiations process with Albania and North Macedonia took place on 19 July 2022, following the approval by the Council of the respective Negotiating Frameworks. This was a historic moment, which sends an important signal to the citizens of Albania and North Macedonia, to the region and beyond. The same day, the Commission launched the process of the analytical examination of the EU acquis – the so-called ‘screening’ – with both countries. This process aims to help the candidate countries to determine the level of alignment with the EU acquis and outline plans for further alignment. The Western Balkans are a geopolitical priority for the EU and the Commission is committed to turn into reality their European perspective.
The Commission is preparing its annual Enlargement Package, which will be published in the autumn 2022. The package will examine the progress made by the Western Balkans and Turkey, the challenges encountered and reforms to be addressed. The individual reports, including the report on Serbia, will provide for a detailed overview and assessment of the ongoing reforms and the progress achieved by the Western Balkans partners and Turkey. Specifically for Serbia, the Commission closely follows the process of preparation of the legislation implementing the constitutional reform in the area of the judiciary.
The Commission fully supports the EU-facilitated Dialogue on normalisation of relations between Kosovo and Serbia, which is a key component of the EU’s engagement with the Western Balkans. It is more urgent than ever for Serbia and Kosovo to reach a comprehensive normalisation agreement, while fully implementing all past agreements. Kosovo and Serbia’s respective European paths go through the EU-facilitated Dialogue. The agreement on the Association/Community of Serb-majority municipalities was concluded in good faith by all parties involved. The Commission expects Kosovo and Serbia to respect and fully implement this agreement.
The Commission will work with both central and local authorities in the Western Balkans in the implementation of IPA III. While the main contacts shall continue to be via the central authorities, there will be a number of ways where the Commission will help facilitate the cooperation of central and local authorities. While a number of mainstream bilateral programmes will have important parts implemented outside the capital cities, there will also be specific programmes, such as the cross-border cooperation programme, which will facilitate cooperation at a local level throughout the region or an innovative access to Financial Instruments to municipalities as for example issuance of Green Bonds to help local governments in contributing to meet the Green Agenda targets. In addition, EU macro regional strategies, including the Danube strategy and the Strategy for the Adriatic and Ionian Region, will play an important role. In parallel, IPA and the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) Interreg programmes with EU Member States such as Croatia, Romania, Hungary, Greece, Italy and Bulgaria will continue to play their role in opening up the Western Balkans to further capacity building, knowledge exchange as well as potentially further investment.
The Commission is committed to continuing focus on public administration reform as one of the fundamentals of EU accession. This focus will continue via the on-going policy dialogue, in addition to a range of bilateral public administration reform programmes, as well as various multi-country initiatives including, notably, the EU financed Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) managed Support for Improvement in Government and Management (SIGMA) programme, which has been working for 30 years with partner countries on strengthening public governance and capacities. The Commission would like to further highlight that the Regional School of Public Administration and the SIGMA programme can provide guidance and support on multi-country basis. Western Balkan partners decide on including specific support measures for local and regional authorities under the IPA programme, based on their strategic priorities. The Commission already makes reference to multilevel governance and local and regional authorities related issues in the annual enlargement package.
The new version of the assessment framework ‘Principles of Public Administration’ developed jointly by the Commission and SIGMA will incorporate specific principles and indicators related to multi-level and sub-national governance.
THE EUROPEAN COMMITTEE OF THE REGIONS
- is in favour of all Western Balkans countries as well as Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia joining the EU, provided they meet all the accession criteria.
- underlines the importance of sending positive signals to them to foster their engagement in the regrettably long process of becoming EU Members.
- highlights that missing a real and trustworthy EU perspective would lead to frustrations in the partner countries and risks leading to further influence of third countries in the region.
- calls on the Council and Commission to further strengthen bonds and deepen partnership to support Ukraine.
- calls on all countries involved to demonstrate their commitment to EU values and standards.
- reiterates that the rule of law and the functioning of democratic institutions are the unnegotiable foundations of the functioning of Member States of the European Union.
- recalls that 70 per cent of the EU acquis is implemented at the sub-national level, encourages exploring and applying best practices in the cooperation with and involvement of LRAs in enlargement-related matters, as they are strategic partners in the process and key actors in making the enlargement success to the citizens.
- reiterates that public administration reform in the Western Balkans countries cannot be implemented without good governance at local level, and calls on the EC to incorporate into its public administration reform support measures and instruments and more detailed performance indicators of the involvement of LRAs in the overall reform process.
- calls on the Commission to increasingly facilitate the exchange of best practices among LRAs on ways of greater involvement of citizens in preparation of local budgets and policies, through measures such as participatory budgeting and offers its full support in this regard.