The enlargement process of European Union has been an on-going process for the last four decades, broadening its members from original six countries to 27 Countries in 2013. Although EU found itself in difficult situation, facing major political, economic and financial challenges, it remains committed to further enlargement and integration of new member states.
While the most important single long lasting candidate country is for sure Turkey, it could take another decade to resolve Cyprus dispute and EU willingness to accept new culture and religion into the Community. Therefore enlargement focus beside Iceland remains on so-called Western Balkan countries of Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia, Kosovo and Albania.
Map source: http://europa.eu/about-eu/countries/index_en.htm
Croatia is already set to become 28th member state of EU, joining on 1st of July 2013, after applying in 2003 and opening negotiations in 2005. EU stabilisation and integration process for Western Balkan, incorporating enlargement process instruments will bring also other countries of this region closer to the EU. Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia are already candidate countries in the process of integrating EU legislation into national law, while Bosnia, Kosovo and Albania are potential candidate countries not yet fulfilling the EU membership requirements. It is out of the context, but interesting to mention, that Montenegro and Kosovo use Euro as their single country currency.
If we first look at the group of candidate countries, Montenegro already started the accession negotiation by closing two of 35 chapters till April 2013 and completed screening of another 5 chapters. While Macedonia continues to have political crisis, reforms are continuing and formal talks with Greece about country name dispute got a new momentum. In 2013 Serbia made significant step forward in relations with Kosovo, which will now open way for accession to the EU. Albania, Kosovo and Bosnia are remaining potential candidate countries for EU membership, after the Thessaloniki European Council summit in June 2003. Albania was already recommended by European Commission to become candidate country, subject to completion of key measures in certain areas. Bosnia has ratified, but not enforced, the Stabilisation and Association Agreement and Kosovo opened negotiation for its adoption in April 2013.
Countries of South East Europe still have a difficult and long way before joining EU, but path has been set, paved and followed. Reforms implementations in particular with strengthening democratic institutions, legislation and fight against organised crime and corruption are still on-going regional challenges. Great deal of dialogue and compromise will need to be achieved to overcome ethnic related issues. All enlargement countries are maintaining macro-economic stability but with increasing fiscal risks, low level of competitiveness and investment and quite high unemployment.
Despite global uncertainty and major challenges that EU is facing, pledge to further integration continues to contribute to the security and prosperity making Europe stronger and more united continent on the globe. Complex and long technical process, evaluation procedures and requirement of agreement among existing member states before accession of a new member, allows us to speculate that none of the countries in South Eastern Europe will join EU before timeframe of next six to eight years.
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