There was considerable progress on enlargement, which continued despite the crisis, but political roadblocks hampered several Balkan countries’ progress.
The EU’s enlargement policy aims at transforming and integrating the Western Balkans. Despite the euro crisis, the EU has not lost sight of this priority and there was considerable progress in 2012. By the end of the year, 21 member states had ratified Croatia’s accession agreement. Montenegro also launched accession talks in June, having fulfilled pre-conditions set in December 2011 and persuaded Sweden and France to lift reservations. Serbia obtained candidate status in March after making steps towards normalisation with Kosovo. In October, the European Commission’s regular report recommended that Albania be granted conditional candidate status – but the European Council postponed the decision in December. Even Kosovo made headway (see component 41). The European Commission presented a positive feasibility study – a critical step towards signing a Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA).
The outliers are Bosnia and Herzegovina and Macedonia: Bosnia failed to meet EU conditions for moving closer to candidacy (see component 42) and Macedonia didn’t obtain a negotiations date in December, despite the European Commission’s positive assessment. Greece, the principal blocker, demands a settlement of the name issue before accession talks are launched. Bulgaria similarly conditioned its support to Macedonia on progress in cross-border cooperation and demanded the establishment of an intergovernmental council on the model set with countries such as Turkey or Israel. But in March, the commission inaugurated the High Level Accession Dialogue (HLAD) to ensure the harmonisation with the acquis is not altogether blocked in Macedonia.
With the European Council preoccupied with the crisis, the European Commission was in the driver’s seat on enlargement. The EEAS also played a key role in mediating between Serbia and Kosovo, together with Germany as well as Austria and Italy, which have extensive economic interests in the area. Traditional advocate Slovenia has been on the back foot owing to a severe financial crisis at home and unresolved issues with Croatia over savings in Nova Ljubljanska banka.