No Countries Have Met EU Conditions Without Being Admitted, Freepik

Original article (in Bosnian) was published on 15/3/2024; Author: Maida Salkanović

In anticipation of the green light for opening accession talks between Bosnia and Herzegovina and the EU, some media outlets published incorrect information stating that there are countries which have met the membership criteria, but have not become members.

At the session held on March 21, 2024, the European Council approved the opening of negotiations with Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) for membership in the European Union. The Council had previously invited the European Commission to report on BiH’s progress in March 2024 to decide whether the conditions for opening negotiations had been met. BiH was granted candidate status in December 2022.

The decision was extensively covered in Bosnian and Herzegovinian media, which had been publishing articles about the upcoming session and possible outcomes for weeks before. On March 3, 2024, the Federal Television aired a video report analyzing not only the likelihood of BiH receiving the green light to start negotiations but also what the approval to start negotiations means on the path to membership. The report included interviews with individuals discussing the experiences of Serbia and North Macedonia in the EU accession process. The report was published with the following title:

“There Are Countries That Have Long Met the Conditions, But Have Not Yet Achieved Membership”

The same page also published the transcript of the report in article form. The introduction of the article states:

“The European Council is expected to decide on the opening of negotiations with Bosnia and Herzegovina at the session on March 21. It will then be known how far we are from the European perspective. However, the negotiation process itself for EU accession is no guarantee that the authorities will efficiently and swiftly fulfill all obligations. The example of neighboring countries confirms this.”

The article also mentions:

“The path of the countries in the region towards Euro-integration is not smooth. Many have long met the demanding conditions but are still waiting for membership.”

The video was also posted on the YouTube and Facebook accounts of Federal Television with the same title. The text, with the same or slightly modified title, was carried by portals BljesakEttoUskopljeRamski vjesnik and Rama-Prozor. Portals Slobodna Bosna i Izdvojeno added “No Guarantees for Us” to their titles.

What are the facts?

To join the EU, a candidate country must meet certain conditions set by the EU. Broadly speaking, this means it must meet the Copenhagen criteria:

  • political criteria: stability of institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights and respect for and protection of minorities;
  • economic criteria: a functioning market economy and the capacity to cope with competition and market forces;
  • administrative and institutional capacity to effectively implement the acquis* and ability to take on the obligations of membership.

Meeting these conditions is evaluated through 35 chapters that should demonstrate the country’s readiness in various areas to join the EU, playing a key role in assessing whether the country meets the Copenhagen criteria. Each chapter corresponds to a specific area of EU legislation and policy, and countries must demonstrate that their laws are aligned with EU standards within these areas. As of 2020, these chapters are divided into thematic clusters.

According to information on the official European Commission website, once the European Council decides that the conditions for opening negotiations have been met, a country can start opening chapters. A country is ready to join the EU after it successfully closes all negotiation chapters, ensuring compliance with the EU acquis and criteria. The final step includes signing the accession treaty, ratified by the EU member states and the candidate country. This formal agreement marks the official accession to the European Union.

Besides the conditions that candidate countries need to meet, there must also be a willingness on the part of the EU to accept new members. The European Commission’s website states the following:

“The Union’s capacity to absorb new members, while maintaining the momentum of European integration, is also an important consideration. The EU reserves the right to decide when a candidate country* has met these criteria and when the EU is ready to accept the new member.”

Adnan Ćerimagić, an analyst at the “European Stability Initiative,” which focuses on Southeast Europe and EU enlargement, explained the process to Raskrinkavanje, noting that although in theory there is a possibility for a country to meet the conditions and not be admitted to the EU, this is not the case with the current candidates.

“After the membership negotiations are concluded and the Draft Accession Treaty is prepared, before its signing, the European Commission issues its final opinion on the candidate’s membership. This opinion, which needs to be positive, must be consented to by the European Parliament, and the final decision unanimously made by the Council (i.e., all EU member countries). Only after this decision does the signing of the Accession Treaty and its ratification in the EU member countries follow.

Thus, in theory, it is possible that after a positive final opinion by the European Commission, stating that the candidate country has met all conditions and is ready for EU membership, anyone in the sequence that follows could block the successful candidate, that is, membership could be blocked because there is no majority in the European Parliament, because one of the member state governments is against, or where necessary, there are not the required majorities in the national parliament or even on a referendum.

However, none of the ten (potential) candidates are at this stage of the process at this moment,” said Ćerimagić.

On the joint website of the European Council and the Council of the European Union, one can track the status of all countries that are in the process of EU enlargement. Serbia has opened 22 out of 35 chapters and provisionally closed two. North Macedonia and Albania have not yet opened any chapters, while Montenegro has opened 33 and provisionally closed three. Besides the “countries of the region,” or Western Balkan countries, Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia are also in the enlargement process. In the meantime, Iceland has withdrawn its candidate status, and Turkey has been at a standstill in negotiations since 2018. None of these countries have met the conditions for EU membership.

Ćerimagić confirmed this for Raskrinkavanje.

“According to the European Commission’s assessment from November 2023, none of the ten (potential) candidates for EU membership (the six Western Balkan countries, Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, and Turkey) is ready for EU membership.”

Accordingly, the claim that some countries have met the conditions but have not “reached” EU membership, published in the title of the article and report on the Federal Television portal, is rated as fake news. Other publications of this claim receive a rating of disseminating fake news. The claim that many countries in the region have met the “demanding conditions” and are still “waiting for membership” is rated as manipulating facts.

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