There was good progress on enlargement, including the accession of Croatia. However, a number of countries were left behind as entrenched problems remained unresolved.
Europeans are collectively committed to enlarge the EU to include the Western Balkan states, though there are internal differences about the pace of the process and some are worried about issues such as immigration. Despite these issues, however, the process continued to move forward in 2013. Croatia joined according to schedule and immediately took initiative to advance its neighbours towards the EU. . Following the Brussels agreement with Kosovo (see component 35), Serbia was given a conditional green light to start membership talks “in January 2014 at the very latest”. In particular, Austria, France, Italy, Germany, and the UK pushed for progress with Serbia, although Germany was keen to push back all enlargement-related decisions until after the general election that took place in September. The European Council in December gave a green light to start negotiations in January.
Albania is another hopeful case. There was some violence in the run-up to the parliamentary election in June but following the landslide victory by the opposition Socialist Party there was a smooth transfer of power. The EU had made a problem-free electoral process a key precondition for granting Tirana candidate status. But, despite the smooth transition, some EU member states continued to doubt Albania’s commitment to comprehensive reform in areas such as corruption, organised crime, and judicial reform. At the European Council in December, European leaders postponed the decision about whether to grant Albania candidate status until June 2014. The delay was requested by Denmark, France, Germany, the Netherlands (which held a parliamentary vote on the issue), and the UK.
Meanwhile, Macedonia and Bosnia and Herzegovina remained stalled after a further failure to overcome obstacles – in particular, the name dispute between Macedonia and Greece and constitutional reform in Bosnia and Herzegovina. In June, the European Council authorised the European Commission to start talks with Kosovo over a Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA). Negotiations began in October and, according to Enlargement Commissioner Štefan Füle, could be completed by the spring of 2014.