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REPORT - "The hopeful three: Albania, Serbia, Montenegro - good students in EU integration, true or false?"

Hopeful 3 Report

On Tuesday 3rd May 2016, in the European Parliament, MEP Knut Fleckenstein, MEP Jozo Radoš and MEP Igor Šoltes organized the conference "The hopeful three: Albania, Serbia, Montenegro - good students in EU integration, true or false?".

These three countries are the most advanced in their EU accession process. The remaining Western Balkan countries – Bosnia and Herzegovina and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Kosovo – are at a less developed stage of the EU accession process. As part of their EU agenda, the Western Balkan countries have largely aligned their relevant legislation with EU standards. However, inadequate implementation remains an issue in five reform priorities: judiciary, public administration, corruption, organised crime and human rights.

The conference examined these topics thanks to three panels. Panel 1 stressed the importance of minorities as one of the most challenging hurdle in meeting criteria as laid down in Chapter 23 of the EU acquis. Goran Miletic from Civil Rights Defenders, Serbia, opened the discussion. The Lisbon Treaty put forward the protection of minorities as a founding value of the EU. In its external relations the EU promote and foster the protection of human and minority rights in the Western Balkan states. The panel presented a broad overview of the situation of minorities in Albania, Serbia, Montenegro exploring the minority rights frameworks in place and how they have been implemented so far.

But to which extent does the EU make use of this leverage in its enlargement policy?

The European Union is founded on values common to all Member States. These are supposed to guarantee a level of homogeneity among Member States, while respecting their national identities.

How can we facilitate the development of a European identity for minorities?

MEP Igor Šoltes illustrated the importance of funding in enlargement and neighbourhood policies. Cooperation needs to be further explored since different actors are involved in the protection of minorities at the Balkan level.

Panel 2 put the focus on the rule of law and on fighting corruption. @Vuk Maras, from MANS – Montenegro, took part in the discussion. The panel gave a unique opportunity to examine the triangular relationship between fundamental rights, democracy and the rule of law in the Balkan region.

But how can we develop ways to strengthen EU competences in these areas?

That is an enormous challenge that needs to be faced. The accession talks should examine possible ‘ways forward’ in EU policy-making for ensuring a more optimal respect, protection and promotion of the Union’s principles. Despite the progress achieved, the Copenhagen mechanism as a new supervisory mechanism would be useful to address the current rule of law deficits in the Balkan region taking into account the concept of “democratic rule of law”?

#Media freedom, the main topic of panel 3, is one indicator of a country's commitment to democracy, political accountability, good governance and thus its readiness for EU membership.

How media freedom represents a key element in any aspiring country's EU enlargement agenda, along with other fundamentals such as the rule of law and economic governance and in a changing regulatory framework?

Besar Likmeta from BIRN, Albania depicted a positive picture in the field of media freedom in the Balkan area, despite the slow reform progress sending a worrying signal both about the effectiveness of the EU’s ability to boost the accession process of the Western Balkans and the countries' preparedness. The space for learning and the learning process is key to make society more democratic. The process of learning and the changing of positions between countries is possible, said MEP Jozo Radoš.

But which are the fundamental political changes needed for a real process of integration for complex and heterogeneous countries like #Bosnia and #Hercegovina?

Pasquale Angiulli

EU Events Reporter