Foreign Affairs | Update on the support and progression towards membership of EU applicant countries
To ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs the extent to which he directly and through the European Union can continue to support EU applicant countries such as the Western Balkans, how each country is progressing towards membership of the EU and whether any new initiatives are appropriate; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
Ireland has always been, and will remain, a strong supporter of enlargement of the European Union, provided that candidate countries meet the necessary conditions for membership. We recognise the value of enlargement as a transformative driver for stability and peace in candidate countries, as indeed EU membership has been for Ireland over the last 50 years.
Unfortunately, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has highlighted the clear need for continuing, ever-closer cooperation between the EU and our partners in the Western Balkans and Eastern Partnership regions.
There are currently eight recognised candidates for membership of the European Union: Türkiye, North Macedonia, Montenegro, Albania, Serbia, Ukraine, Moldova and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Georgia and Kosovo are recognised as potential candidates by the EU.
During 2022, candidate status was granted to Ukraine, Moldova and Bosnia and Herzegovina on the basis that reforms are undertaken in a number of key areas. It was also recommended that candidate status eventually be granted to Georgia, once a number of priority reforms have been addressed. It is hoped that the granting of candidate/potential candidate status will spur on necessary reforms in those countries, to allow for progression to the opening of accession negotiations.
In July 2022, the EU officially launched accession negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia. This progress sent an important signal to the Western Balkans and Eastern Partnership regions that the EU is serious about enlargement.
The EU is encouraging greater reform efforts in Serbia and Montenegro to accelerate their accession paths, particularly in relation to rule of law and good governance. The current political impasse in Montenegro risks undermining its progress on EU reforms and its heretofore full CFSP alignment. Serbia’s non-alignment with the EU common position relating to Russia is regrettable.
Kosovo submitted an application for EU membership on 15 December 2022. Sweden, as current EU Presidency, has begun consultations with EU MS to decide how best to progress Kosovo’s application. Ireland supports Kosovo’s EU perspective, but progress in the EU-facilitated Belgrade-Pristina Dialogue remains a key requirement to advancing the European perspectives of both Serbia and Kosovo.
Progress on Türkiye’s application for EU membership has stalled since 2016, due to backsliding in the areas of rule of law and fundamental rights, and is now essentially frozen. As a strategic partner for the EU, Ireland would like to see more positive EU-Türkiye relations.
In general, the enlargement process needs to be improved and accelerated where possible. The new accession methodology is a positive step in this regard, but more must be done to maintain and encourage the reform commitment and aspirations of those seeking to join, including through use of accelerated integration procedures where appropriate.
To assist in implementation of the necessary reforms, the European Union has established several support programs. The primary support tool is the Instrument for Pre-accession Assistance (IPA), which the EU has been using to support reforms by candidate countries in the Western Balkans region with financial and technical assistance since 2007. For the period 2021-2027, the IPA III budgetary envelope is over €14 billion. EU Member States are also able to support candidate and potential candidate countries through TAIEX (Technical Assistance and Information Exchange) and Twinning. Via TAIEX and Twinning, EU Member States can directly support public administrations in candidate/potential candidate countries through workshops, expert missions and study visits.
Ireland will continue to strongly support the EU enlargement process and offer any practical assistance it can to candidate and potential candidate countries engaged in accession negotiations to the EU.
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