At the next EU-Western Balkans summit in May, instead of expansion, it is likely that Brussels will “offer” new rules of accession, namely economic integration without formal membership, to Serbia and other countries in the region that want to join the European family.
At the moment there are several formats under discussion, each with the aim of offering a kind of privileged partnership with the EU, rather than enlargement to the candidate countries; more specifically, economic integration without formal membership.
The direct negotiations between the two most influential EU countries, France and Germany, are largely devoted to a new negotiating methodology, while the countries that oppose further accession, such as the Netherlands and Denmark, are included in wider discussion circles.
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An agreement should be reached within the next six months and adopted at the European Council in March next year. One idea is to introduce so-called sectoral integration into the EU; that is, after the closure of each chapter the country in question will practically become a full-fledged member of the EU in the segment that the chapter relates to, rather than waiting, as before, to become a full-fledged EU member overall.
For example, when the candidate country completes negotiations in the field of transport or the environment, it will have immediate access to all EU funds relating to those fields, just like any other Member State.
There is also a Norwegian model in circulation according to which, instead of the EU membership, Serbia and the other countries of the region would be offered membership to two important European institutions: the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) and the European Economic Area (EEA). Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland are all members of the EFTA and EEA but not of the EU.
The Brussels diplomats want France to insist that the new accession rules be amended not only for the countries that have yet to start negotiations, i.e. North Macedonia, Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina, but also for Serbia and Montenegro, which are ahead in the integration process. There are also those who believe that the EU would act without principles and contrary to its values if the rules had been changed for Belgrade and Podgorica in the midst of a race for accession, but it is likely that Serbia and Montenegro will be included in the new methodology.
Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic confirmed on Monday that there the EU was considering various models and ideas:
“The idea of a privileged partnership is not new. The then Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia had practically the status of an associate EU member. A country with a single party in power could have been a member, while now you see the conditions imposed on Serbia. The EU enlargement became only about the Union itself.”
The idea for reforming the whole concept of EU enlargement was launched a year ago by the French President Emmanuel Macron, who supports a tri-circular Europe. In the first, the narrowest circle, according to Macron, the backbone would be Germany and France, and these countries would have, among other things, a common currency and an integrated labour market. The second circle, according to the French President’s vision, would include the countries with a single market and freedom of movement. The third, larger circle, would most likely include the Western Balkans and potentially Russia and Turkey.
Serbia started accession negotiations in 2014, with the last deadline for admission in 2025, which is now being questioned.
(Vecernje Novosti, 29.10.2019)
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