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MFA on the EU enlargement strategy: a credible enlargement perspective for the Western Balkans

Ljubljana, 6 February 2018 – The Ministry applauds the publication of the new EU enlargement strategy titled EU-Western Balkans Strategy: a credible enlargement perspective, presented today at a plenary session of the European Parliament in Strasbourg. The Strategy, which is based on President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker's address delivered last September, contains clear political messages with regard to the fact that a firm future of the region as an integral part of the EU is in the Union's very own political, security and economic interests. Furthermore, the Ministry commends the fact that the Strategy includes all the countries in the region, conveys strong political messages and proposes concrete steps for possible progress, provided, however, that the criteria are met.

The Strategy contains viable proposals on how to enhance the credibility of the enlargement perspective for the Western Balkan countries. Slovenia is pleased that the expectations it had expressed were taken into account in the drafting of the Strategy, as the document includes the issues which, in the form of a joint letter, were coordinated at the meeting of foreign ministers of the Brdo-Brijuni proces held at Brdo last June, such as the initiative to prepare detailed action plans in order to strengthen the rule of law for all countries of the region (and not only those already included in the negotiation process). In addition, the European Commission underlines the importance of enhancing prospects for the region's youth, which has also been one of the priority issues of Slovenia's activities so far. Another key point of the Strategy is the need to support the economic development of the region to reduce the gap with the EU, which was also one of Slovenia's expectations expressed in the joint letter. In addition, the Strategy underscores the importance of the Western Balkans Counter-Terrorism Initiative (WBCTI) as a crucial element for achieving synergies in combating terrorism and radicalisation.

The Strategy maintains the focus on the individual progress of the Western Balkan countries and implies that Serbia and Montenegro, provided they meet all the criteria and ambitiously proceed on their path towards the EU, could be ready for membership by 2025. The European Commission states that it is ready to prepare recommendations to open accession negotiations with Albania and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia on the basis of fulfilled conditions. With sustained effort and engagement with regard to meeting the criteria, Bosnia and Herzegovina could become a candidate for accession; as to Kosovo, the European Commission underlines that the country has an opportunity to achieve sustainable progress through the implementation of the Stabilisation and Association Agreement and to advance on the European path once objective circumstances allow.

The Strategy proposes that disputes be settled through international arbitration when border disputes are not resolved bilaterally. The credible functioning of the EU, European Commission and Member States in the region will be demonstrated through the implementation of this approach, which also implies the consistent application of international law and respect for courts and tribunals by EU Member States. In this spirit, Slovenia expects Croatia to comply with the Final Award on the border based on the 2009 Arbitration Agreement between the two countries, which was facilitated by the European Commission and which enabled Croatia to accede to the EU. The implementation of the Final Award by Croatia will enhance the credibility of the European Commission and contribute to achieving EU goals in the region, as well as speed the Western Balkan countries on their path towards the EU.

Furthermore, the European Commission calls on the countries to abstain from misusing outstanding issues in the EU accession process, which is also important in the context of achieving reconciliation in the region. The Ministry believes that resolving the burdensome issues of the past is crucial for the reconciliation process, the basis of which is respect for the judgements of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY).

The Ministry furthermore assesses that the current enlargement strategy provides the necessary impetus and presents a favourable opportunity for achieving greater connectivity between the countries of the region. It is vital that the Western Balkan countries themselves ensure the credibility of their national reform processes, particularly by implementing reforms with regard to the rule of law and institution building, which is essential for overall progress. For successor states to the former Yugoslavia, this also involves implementing the Agreement on Succession Issues.

The Ministry underlines that, in order to seize the opportunity provided by the ambitious prospects contained in the Strategy, active steps need to be taken immediately. Slovenia remains firmly convinced that EU membership is of crucial importance for stability and progress in the Western Balkans, and is still willing to provide continued support and assistance to the countries in the region. In the Western Balkans, Slovenia is present as a partner in development cooperation and, within its overall bilateral official development assistance, channels the greatest share of its available funds to the region. Furthermore, Slovenia participates in the implementation of twinning and TAIEX projects funded by the EU. To date, it has taken part in 49 twinning projects in the region, of which 6 are still under way. Between July 2016 and June 2017, Slovenian experts implemented 163 TAIEX projects, meaning that Slovenia ranks among the very top TAIEX service providers in the EU.

The Strategy is an important contribution to future orientations of the EU enlargement policy, which will be further updated by the knowledge, positions and experience of EU Members States. Slovenia therefore pledges to continue participating with its proposals in the process of implementing the Strategy adopted today.