European Union Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn confirmed during the Paris-Balkans 2016 summit of Western Balkan and EU leaders that Croatia will allow the opening of accession Chapters 23 and 24 with Serbia.
Decisions to open accession negotiation chapters have to be unanimous. Serbia had hoped to open Chapters 23 and 24 on justice, freedom and security before the end of the Dutch presidency of the EU on July 1. However, Croatia initially refused to approve the opening of Chapter 23 in April.
Although Croatia lifted its veto at the end of May, the opening of the chapters was again delayed after the UK’s Brexit vote, when UK representatives on the Committee of Permanent Representatives in the European Union (COREPER) said they did not have a mandate to vote to open the chapter. Croatia then joined the UK in again blocking the opening of the chapter, but its veto has now been lifted.
"Paris-Balkans 2016 delivers. Croatia confirms OK of opening accession chapters 23/24 with Serbia. European perspective is real," Hahn tweeted on July 4.
Shortly after Hahn’s announcement, Aleksandar Vucic, the prime minister of Serbia's caretaker government who is also mandated to lead the new government, confirmed that Serbia had been given the green light to open Chapters 23 and 24 and that they would be opened on July 19, according to a government statement.
“Serbia is now more optimistic about the future, that a lot remains to be done, but that I believe that our country will have the support of the EU and that it will be able to do that job by itself,” Vucic told reporters after the Paris-Balkans 2016 summit.
He added that German Chancellor Angela Merkel had asked everyone to support Serbia on its European path.
Austrian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sebastian Kurz also confirmed to Tanjug that a solution had been found and that Croatia was no longer blocking Serbia’s opening of the chapter.
“I was in constant contact with Serbia and Croatia but Commissioner Hahn played an important role there. I’m happy that a solution was found,” Kurz said.
Serbian public broadcaster RTS reported on July 4 that the UK was also ready to allow Serbia to continue its EU integration process.
Serbia opened its first two accession negotiation chapters on December 14, a significant milestone on the country's path to EU entry. Brussels decided to to open negotiations on Chapter 32 on financial control and Chapter 35 on the normalisation of relations between Serbia and Kosovo. Chapter 35 makes Serbia’s EU accession process unique as it is the first country whose EU path is conditioned by a non-EU member.
According to Serbia’s government, the summit in Paris also brought the agreement on the establishment of the Regional Youth Office, which could make an important contribution to regional stability and peace.
The agreement was signed by Vucic, Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama, Macedonian Prime Minister Emil Dmitriev, the Chairman of the Council of Ministers of Bosnia & Herzegovina Denis Zvizdic, Kosovan Prime Minister Isa Mustafa and Montenegrin Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic.
Vucic told journalists after the summit that the main office will be in Tirana, while Serbia will provide the most funding.
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