Qualification Process – Accession Process of Western Balkan States to EU
The entire process of accession of the potential candidate state starts with submitting its application for EU membership, continues with the accession negotiations that make up its central part and ends with the crown of this process, i.e. the signing and entry into force of the Accession Treaty. During this process, the status of the state is changed from the status of potential candidate state into the status of the EU member state.
The accession to the European Union may be regarded through three stages of the process with certain steps:
A/ Beginning of the accession process
- Application for membership in the EU
- Questionnaire of the European Commission
- Opinion of the European Commission and obtaining the status of a candidate country for EU membership
- B/ Central part of the accession process
- Opening accession negotiations
- Accession negotiations
- C/ Crown Process – EU Accession Treaty
- Closing accession negotiations and signing of the EU Accession Treaty
- In the EU hall – ratification of the EU Accession Treaty
- Entry into membership
The duration of each individual step and phase is different and depends exclusively on the progress of the state in the implementation of reforms and the implementation of commitments that have been undertaken by signing the Stabilization and Association Agreement, but also on specific challenges of the state, and accordingly, on specific conditions and criteria for their further progress. This is why a very different progress has been achieved among the Western Balkan countries, although in 2000, the EU granted the status of a potential candidate to all Western Balkan states. Today (December 20017), the dynamics of the state on the path towards the EU membership looks like this:
- Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo* potential candidates for EU membership, where Bosnia and Herzegovina has applied for EU membership
- Albania, Macedonia, Serbia and Montenegro are candidates for membership, with Montenegro and Serbia negotiating on membership
- Croatia has been a full member of the EU since 1 July 2013.
Everything starts with the first step – by submitting an application for membership of a potential candidate state, which should result in an EU decision on the status of the candidate state and the opening of accession negotiations in certain areas, or chapters of the EU’s acquis communautaire.
A/ Beginning of the accession process
- Submitting an application for membership in the EU
The application for membership of a potential candidate country is sent to the Council of the EU, or to a member state that during that period is chairing the EU Council. The submission of this application should be credible, which means that the applicant state properly and fully carries out obligations under the SAA, and the most favourable submission date is chosen as well, according to the political assessment. In its application for membership, the state emphasizes its European affiliation and the political goal of EU membership, as well as the willingness to accept all EU objectives as well as the obligations arising from EU membership. Following the request, the EU Council invites the European
Commission to draw up an opinion on the membership application, i. an opinion on the ability and preparedness of the applicant state to fulfil the criteria for membership in the European Union, with an assessment of the state’s readiness to obtain candidate status and open accession negotiations. On the basis of this opinion, the EU Council makes appropriate conclusions.
- Questionnaire of the European Commission
In order for the European Commission to assess the readiness of the state to fulfil the obligations of EU membership, the Commission sends to a state a special document known as the European Commission Questionnaire. The questionnaire contains thousands of questions related to the overall functioning of the state in areas under the jurisdiction of the EU. All questions are organized in accordance with the criteria for membership through the three basic parts of the Questionnaire: political criteria, economic criteria and the ability to take over obligations from the membership – chapter of the EU’s acquis communautaire, i.e. Acquis. This third part of the Questionnaire follows the division of the acquis into its negotiating chapters and encompasses 33 of the 35 negotiating chapters (Chapter 34, Institutions and Chapter 35. The rest are excluded from the Questionnaire as irrelevant for this stage).
The applicant state submits the answers in English to the European Commission with accompanying documents such as laws, legislation, policies, strategies, etc. The European Commission analyses the answers provided within its services and, if necessary, through a new round of additional questions, requests clarifications for the completeness or clarity of individual responses, with the possibility of asking new questions. In addition to the information obtained through the answers of the state, the Commission receives information through other sources such as expert missions and assessments involving EU Member States’ experts, primarily to check the level of law enforcement, and through independent experts’ reports, then through reports from independent experts, through consultations with civil society organizations, international organizations and other stakeholders.
The number of questions in the Questionnaire and the deadline for submitting the answers to such questions are different from state to state. Quality answers may be delivered in a very short time if:
- the necessary support is provided through a unique political will with the proclamation that it is the number one priority of the state and that its quality execution is necessary;
- an adequate preparation was made related to the methodology of preparing the answers (identified institutions and formed structures within the state administration for preparing answers, defined coordination and cooperation for the preparation of unique answers, prepared instructions for providing answers), as well as
- administration capacities are built through familiarizing, understanding and analysing the questions in the questionnaire delivered to other states, along with the preparation of own answers.
On December 9, 2016, the European Commission submitted the Questionnaire to Bosnia and Herzegovina with 3,242 questions. The preparation of the answers has lasted for a little over a year, which is much longer than it was required of other states applying for the EU membership. Within a period of 3 months, Croatia answered to 4560 questions received, Macedonia within 4 months answered to 4666 questions, Montenegro, in about 4.5 months answered to 2178 questions, Serbia within 2 months answered to 2483 questions and Albania within 4 months answered to 2280 questions. Having sent the answers, all the mentioned states received additional questions and this second round of questions may be expected for Bosnia and Herzegovina. Answering the Questionnaire directly influences the dynamics and content of the next step in the process of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s accession to the
EU, or the European Commission’s opinion on the application for EU membership with recommendations for obtaining candidate status and opening accession negotiations.
It remains to be seen when Bosnia and Herzegovina will provide answers to the Questionnaire, and whether the answers will be quality and unique for the whole state. It remains to be seen how the European Commission will react, but also what decisions will be brought by the EU at the political level. It depends on all this whether Bosnia and Herzegovina will be able to get the candidate status in 2018 as a very ambitious deadline, as well as when it will be approved to open accession negotiations. If there is a will to use the announced EU plan for a new enlargement in 2025, Bosnia and Herzegovina needs to take big steps towards the EU membership, and these steps will become even greater after the decision on opening of negotiations. One thing is certain, in addition to the efforts of Bosnia and Herzegovina (both at the political and technical level), the assistance of the EU is also needed (also at the political and technical level). The EU announces the release of the Western Balkans Strategy in February 2018 and holding the summit of the Western Balkans and the EU in May 2018.