Thursday, March 12, 2009
Foreign ministers reluctant to respond to Montenegro
By Toby Vogel
Formal bid needs formal answer; some ministers believe application is premature.
The foreign ministers of EU member states will discuss Montenegro's application for EU membership at their meeting in Brussels on Monday (16 March). But it is unlikely that they will instruct the European Commission to prepare a formal opinion on Montenegro's readiness to join.
When Montenegro made its request to join the EU last December, Germany, the Netherlands and others opposed the next step – to ask the Commission for the opinion that is a pre-requisite for opening membership negotiations.
Some countries believe the application is premature, and others want a general slow-down of enlargement, fearful that backing Montenegro's application might trigger applications from Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Albania.
Germany is unlikely to change its stance ahead of its general election in September. In its draft platform for the elections to the European Parliament in June, the centre-right CDU party of Angela Merkel, the chancellor, called for a “consolidation phase” in which the “strengthening of the identity and the institutions of the EU” should take precedence over further accessions.
“The only exception to this rule can be made for Croatia,” the draft said. It also called for Turkey to be given a “privileged partnership”, rather than full membership. But the Czechs have made enlargement in the western Balkans one of the priorities of their presidency of the Council of Ministers, which ends in June.
The membership bids of Croatia and Turkey are currently blocked. Macedonia, although formally a candidate, has not yet begun negotiations.
“One should understand that there are uncertainties within the EU about the speed of enlargement,” Danilo Türk, Slovenia's president, said last week (4 March) after a meeting with his Montenegrin counterpart Filip Vujanovic´c – although he reiterated Slovenia's support for Montenegro's application.
The decision to refer the application to the Commission does not require Council unanimity, but the sensitivity of the subject means the Czech Republic, which holds the rotating presidency of the EU, is likely to seek a political consensus before proceeding. Once the Commission provides its opinion, which typically takes around a year, member states discuss the political aspects of the membership application.
Milan Rocen, Montenegro's foreign minister, will hold consultations with EU officials after the meeting of EU foreign ministers. Montenegro is holding parliamentary elections on 29 March.
EU foreign ministers will also discuss the way ahead for the EU's engagement in Afghanistan following initial talks with the administration of Barack Obama, the US president. Joe Biden, the US vice-president, was in Brussels on Tuesday (10 March) for consultations on the issue. The foreign ministers will also consider whether the political situation in Belarus warrants continued sanctions.
The EU has been seeking a rapprochement with the authoritarian regime of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka and wants Belarus to feature in the eastern partnership with countries in eastern Europe and the Caucasus.
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