Council conclusions on enlargement and stabilisation and association process

Council conclusions on enlargement and stabilisation and association process

3132nd GENERAL AFFAIRS Council meeting

Brussels, 5 December 2011

 

The Council adopted the following conclusions:

 

ENLARGEMENT STRATEGY

1. In line with the renewed consensus on enlargement approved by the European Council on 14 and 15 December 2006, and the Council conclusions of 14 December 2010, the Council welcomes the communication from the Commission of 12 October 2011 on the Enlargement Strategy and Main Challenges 2011-2012, as well as the Opinion on Croatia accession to the European Union, the Opinion on Serbia application for membership, and the progress reports Turkey, Croatia, Iceland, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro, Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo, and takes good note of the conclusions and recommendations therein.

2. The enlargement process continues to reinforce peace, democracy and stability in Europe and allows the EU to be better positioned to address global challenges. The transformative power of the enlargement process generates far-reaching political and economic reform in the enlargement countries which also benefits the EU as a whole. The successful completion of accession negotiations with Croatia is a strong testimony to this and sends a positive signal to the wider region.

3. The Council reaffirms the importance of the coherent implementation of the renewed consensus on enlargement, which is based on consolidation of commitments, fair and rigorous conditionality, better communication, combined with the EUs capacity to integrate new members, with each country being assessed on its own merits. A credible enlargement policyis key to maintaining the momentum of reform in the countries concerned and public support for enlargement in the Member States. The Council remains firmly committed to taking the enlargement process forward on the basis of agreed principles and conclusions.

4. Key challenges remain in most enlargement countries. Strengthening the rule of law and public administration reform is essential to come closer to the EU and later to fully assume the obligations of EU membership. The experience acquired from the negotiations with Croatia should be used to the benefit of future negotiations, notably in relation to the negotiating chapters on judiciary and fundamental rights and to justice, freedom and security. The Council notes positively the Commissions proposal for a new approach towards these chapters, and looks forward to developing its position on the new approach in future negotiating frameworks, based on the proposal from the Commission and building on established practice of the current negotiating frameworks under the renewed consensus on enlargement. The above-mentioned issues should be tackled early in the enlargement process to allow the maximum time to establish the necessary legislation, institutions and solid track records of implementation before the negotiations are closed. The Council invites the Commission to report regularly on progress in the above-mentioned chapters and to make recommendations with a view to ensuring the overall balanced progress of negotiations. The Council notes positively that the Commissions proposal envisages incentives and support to the candidate countries, as well as corrective measures, as appropriate. The Council welcomes an increased interaction with Member States foreseen by the new approach.

5. The Council recalls that problems affecting freedom of expression and the media remain also a particular concern and invites the Commission to closely monitor developments in this area. Furthermore, the work on improving social and economic inclusion of vulnerable groups, including the Roma, should continue, in particular through the EU Framework for National Roma Integration Strategies. The Council underlines the importance of protecting the rights of persons belonging to sexual minorities and promoting a culture of tolerance.

6. Enlargement countries are also affected by the global economic and financial crisis and have embarked upon the path of economic recovery, albeit at a varying pace. Further efforts to deliver structural reform and fiscal consolidation and EU-related reforms, including embracing Europe 2020, should accelerate this recovery and growth and help these countries prepare for the new surveillance procedures in the Economic and Monetary Union. The Council underlines that developing transport and energy cooperation with the enlargement countries directly benefits European citizens and businesses.

7. Regional cooperation and good neighbourly relations remain essential parts of the enlargement process. They contribute to prosperity, stability, reconciliation and a climate conducive to addressing open bilateral issues and the legacy of the past. The Council encourages all parties concerned to address bilateral issues, falling outside areas of EU competence and/or contractual obligations towards the EU, in a constructive spirit, as early as possible, taking into account overall EU interests and values.

8. The Council looks forward to the presentation by the Commission of proposals for the new framework for providing pre-accession assistance under the 2014-2020 multi-annual financial framework. Based on the positive results of the financial and technical support provided to the enlargement countries by the current Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance (IPA), the Council welcomes the intention, inter alia, to strengthen the link between financial assistance and policy priorities for each enlargement country, as well as to increase flexibility and simplify procedures, while ensuring visibility and full transparency of actions undertaken, strengthened ownership and improved results and impact. The role of civil society should be enhanced both in programmes implemented through government bodies and as direct beneficiaries of EU assistance.

WESTERN BALKANS

31. The Council reaffirms its unequivocal commitment to the European perspective of the Western Balkans, which remains essential for the stability, reconciliation and future of the region. It also reaffirms the need for fair and rigorous conditionality, in the framework of the Copenhagen political criteria and Stabilisation and Association process and in accordance with the renewed consensus on enlargement approved by the European Council on 14 and 15 December 2006.

32. The Council recalls that by making solid progress in economic and political reform and by fulfilling the necessary conditions and requirements, the remaining potential candidates in the Western Balkans should achieve candidates status, according to their own merits, with European Union membership as ultimate goal. Further, a country satisfactory track record in implementing its obligations under the Stabilisation and Association Agreements, including trade-related provisions, is an essential element for the EU to consider any membership application.

 33. The Council welcomes that further progress was made by the Western Balkans regarding regional cooperation and reconciliation, while stressing that the inclusiveness of this process must be ensured by all parties concerned. Regional cooperation and good neighbourly relations remain essential elements of the Stabilisation and Association Process. Parties concerned in the Western Balkans must ensure that any disputes between them do not have a detrimental effect on their shared goal of progress towards EU membership. Outstanding disputes and issues should be solved in line with international law and established principles, including through implementation of legally binding agreements, inter alia Agreement on Succession Issues. The Council welcomes the completion of the Sarajevo Process on durable solutions for refugees and displaced persons.

34. The Council recognises the importance of visa liberalisation for all the citizens of the Western Balkans. It encourages the Commission to continue to closely monitor the implementation of all conditions set for the visa liberalisation, through its follow-up mechanism, including reporting regularly to the Council and the European Parliament. The Council urges the authorities of the Western Balkans countries to take all the necessary measures against the abuse of the visa free travel regime in order to ensure its unrestricted continuation.

35. The Council reiterates the importance of protection of all minorities and calls on the governments of the region to take the necessary actions to address outstanding concerns.

 

BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA

45. The Council reiterates its call on the political leadership of Bosnia and Herzegovina to form, through an inclusive process, a state level government as a matter of urgency and to address the outstanding and necessary reforms to achieve qualitative steps forward on its path towards the EU. It notes with serious concern the continued political deadlock, hampering the proper functioning of the state and the implementation of EU-related reforms. The Council urges all BiH political leaders to live up to their responsibilities in this regard and to develop a shared vision of the future of the country.

46. The Council notes recent developments on key EU related reforms, notably on the state aid law, the census law and the setting up and initial work of the ad hoc joint Committee for the enforcement of the ECHR judgement. It urges their rapid translation into concrete results. The Council recalls the steps needed in order to progress towards the EU, as outlined in its conclusions of 21 March 2011, including as regards the entry into force of the SAA. The Council stresses the importance of improving and strengthening the efficient functioning of the state and institutions, including through necessary constitutional changes. In particular the country will need to be in a position to adopt, implement and enforce laws and rules of the EU.

47. Recalling its conclusions of 21 March and 10 October 2011, the Council reaffirms its commitment to strengthen its support to Bosnia and Herzegovina. In the framework of its refocused engagement, the Council reaffirms its full support to the EUSR/Head of EU Delegation taking the lead in supporting Bosnia and Herzegovina in EU related matters. The Council reaffirms its support to the establishment of the Structured Dialogue on Justice within the framework of the Stabilisation and Association Process and calls on the BiH authorities to continue to engage constructively in it. The Council underlines that establishing an effective coordination mechanism for dealing with EU matters, including IPA related issues, is key.

48. In the context of the EU overall strategy for Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Council looks forward to continuing discussion with the international community on the reconfiguration of  the international presence, including its downsizing and possible relocation of the OHR, in the appropriate forum. In this regard, it notes the ongoing discussions on overlapping tasks between the OHR and the EU. It calls on Bosnia and Herzegovina to meet the outstanding objectives and conditions which remain necessary for the closure of the OHR.

49. The Council reiterates its unequivocal commitment to the European perspective of BiH. It also reaffirms its unequivocal commitment to the territorial integrity of BiH as a sovereign and united country.

The overall conclusions can be found at link.