FACTBOX-Brussels' verdict on progress by EU hopefuls

by Reuters
Wednesday, 16 October 2013 11:21 GMT

BRUSSELS, Oct 16 (Reuters) - The European Commission published on Wednesday its annual assessments of political and economic reforms being made by countries that aspire to join the 28-nation bloc.

They include criticism of excessive use of force by Turkish police in tackling protests this year.

Here are the highlights of the reports:

TURKEY (candidate for EU membership) - The Commission highlighted certain reforms as important steps. They included the adoption of an important judiciary reform package, the announcement of a package of democratic reforms and the start of peace talks aimed at ending militancy and violence in the southeast of the country.

However, it said the political climate continued to be marked by polarisation, which translated into an uncompromising stance in the face of dissent. This was exemplified in late May and early June when police used excessive force in response to a major wave of protests, it said.

The report emphasised the need for Turkey to develop a truly participatory democracy, able to reach out to all segments of society, as well as a clear requirement to further amend criminal legislation to ensure respect for fundamental freedoms.

EU accession negotiations need to regain momentum. The planned opening of a new chapter, or policy area, in enlargement talks after more than three years of stalemate would be an important step in this direction, the Commission said.

SERBIA (candidate) - The European Union gave Serbia a green light last June to start negotiations by January on joining the bloc.

The Commission said in its report that continued progress in normalising relations with Kosovo, including the implementation of agreements reached so far, remained essential.

It said Serbia must also sustain reform momentum in the areas of the rule of law - particularly judicial reform and anti-corruption policy, the independence of the judiciary, media freedom, anti-discrimination policy, protection of minorities, and the business environment.

MONTENEGRO (candidate) - Montenegro opened accession negotiations with the bloc in June 2012. The Commission said the country had made progress in establishing a functioning market economy, had improved its ability to take on the obligations of EU membership, and continued to sufficiently meet the political criteria for EU membership.

Montenegro would need to further develop its track record in the judicial area, particularly with respect to tackling high-level corruption and organised crime, the report said.

MACEDONIA (candidate) - The small Balkan country has been an EU candidate since 2005, but has failed to receive a date to open accession talks because of a dispute with neighbouring EU member Greece over Macedonia's name.

The Commission concluded that the country continued to sufficiently fulfil the political criteria for EU membership and recommended, for the fifth consecutive year, that negotiations should be opened.

ICELAND (candidate) - The Icelandic government has put accession negotiations on hold, saying they will not continue unless approved through a referendum.

The Commission said Iceland continued to fully meet the political criteria for EU membership.

ALBANIA (potential candidate) - A year ago, the Commission recommended that Albania be granted EU candidate status, subject to completing a number of reforms. This year, the Commission recommended that Albania be granted EU candidate status without conditions, but on the understanding that it continued to fight organised crime and corruption.

To be able to move to the next stage and open accession negotiations, Albania needs to meet further goals, with particular focus on public administration reform, the rule of law and fundamental rights, the report said.

BOSNIA (potential candidate) - The Commission concluded that Bosnia had made very limited progress in addressing the political criteria for EU membership.

A shared vision by the country's political leaders on the direction and future of the country, or on how it should function, remains absent, it said. Despite intensive mediation efforts by the European Union, the country's political leaders could not agree on how to implement a European Court of Human Rights judgement on discrimination against citizens on ethnic grounds.

KOSOVO (potential candidate) - EU leaders agreed last June that Brussels would start talks with Kosovo on a so-called association agreement, which covers trade, economic and political relations and is a step towards eventual EU membership.

The Commission said Kosovo had been committed to an EU-mediated dialogue with Serbia and had made important policy reforms, but it underlined the need to keep normalising relations with Serbia and to build an inclusive Kosovo. (Reporting by Adrian Croft; Editing by Pravin Char)

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