Croatia’s success and the efforts by Serbia and Montenegro to meet European conditions testify to the strength of EU policy. Yet the rest of the region has made little progress.
Democracy, human rights and good governance are at the core of EU policy in the Western Balkans. Accession conditionality is the principal tool in the hands of Brussels. Member states act in unity and have given the European Commission a central role in benchmarking and monitoring. The only exception is Macedonia, where Greece has imposed a unilateral veto in the European Council on launching membership talks, despite the commission’s positive avis for three consecutive years.
Having signed an accession treaty, Croatia has fulfilled political criteria for membership. The treaty does not include a Co-operation and Verification Mechanism, as in the case of Bulgaria and Romania, reflecting progress in the fight against corruption, notably the trial against former Prime Minister Ivo Sanader. Serbia’s arrest and extradition to the ICTY of both Ratko Mladić (the former commander of the Bosnian Serb Army) and Goran Hadžić (the former leader of the Croatian Serbs) signalled resolve to tackle war crimes and obtain candidate status. The December EU summit ruled that Montenegrocould start membership negotiations in June 2012 if the European Commission judges positively its efforts to curb organised crime and graft. =
However, Macedonia and Albania made little progress. The standoff between Albania’s Prime Minister Sali Berisha and the socialist opposition has continued, with tensions escalating over the local elections in May which were marred by irregularities. The European Commission did not recommend candidacy status, citing shortcomings in the electoral code and a lack of reform. In Macedonia, the government of Nikola Gruevski was re-elected in June. A coalition with the Albanian DUI party was reconfirmed but the European Commission’s regular report found little progress. There are concerns over freedom of speech: a major television channel and several dailies closed in 2011. Gruevski’s attack of the commission over its report’s findings was unprecedented.