Today (6 February), the European Commission published a strategy paper in Brussels which reaffirmed the accession perspective of the Western Balkan countries. They were given this assurance at the European Council in Thessaloniki back in 2003. However, if Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia are to move closer to accession, then they must push ahead with far reaching reforms. Germany is assisting these countries along this path. However, the message is clear: EU membership will only be possible if reforms are implemented effectively.
Still far short of EU standards
The Western Balkan countries have undergone rapid development since the late 1990s. In many spheres, however, they still fall far short of EU standards. Further progress is especially necessary when it comes to the rule of law, fundamental rights and good governance. Corruption and organised crime have to be vigorously tackled and independent institutions strengthened. Furthermore, it is essential that their economies become more competitive if they are to move closer to EU membership.
Monitoring progress carefully
Germany is calling for the progress reforms in the individual countries to be monitored carefully within the framework of the enlargement process. It is important that reforms are implemented and that they are sustainable. The German Government is also committed to supporting the transformation on the ground. For instance, Germany is providing support for programmes promoting the rule of law or the dual system of vocational training with the aim of bringing down youth unemployment and is assisting the expansion of digital infrastructure.
Germany is also focusing on fostering reconciliation and good-neighbourly relations among the Western Balkans countries, so that bilateral disputes can be resolved. For example, the Federal Foreign Office is funding projects which bring young people together, including the Regional Youth Cooperation Office (RYCO) set up in 2017. Moreover, the Federal Foreign Office is supporting economic and political exchange among countries in the region. The Berlin Process, a series of major conferences to advance regional cooperation set up by Germany in 2014, is of particular importance here.