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Information Concerning the EU accession negotiating process

The European Council decided on 28 June 2013 that accession negotiations with Serbia be opened and that the first Inter-Governmental conference be held not later than January 2014. Before starting the negotiations, the European Council must endorse a negotiation framework containing the principles, guidelines and the procedure of conducting accession negotiations.

Тhe conduct of accession negotiations

1) Negotiating framework

Accession negotiations will be held based on the so-called Negotiating framework, focusing on the conditions under which the candidate country will adopt, implement and apply the acquis communautaire, divided into 35 thematic chapters. 
Following the decision of the European Council of 28 June 2013 and presentation by the European Commission of the draft negotiating framework to the EU Member States on 23 July 2013, a broader discussion on this subject-matter is expected to take place within the EU framework, this autumn. In this period, the draft will be refined and the Member States will have an opportunity to intervene, in accordance with their interests. The Negotiating framework is likely to be adopted at the General Affairs Council meeting on 19 December 2013, and to be endorsed by the European Council meeting scheduled for 19-20 December 2013.
The draft Negotiating framework prepared for Serbia by the European Commission is divided into three parts: principles governing the accession negotiations, substance of the negotiations and the negotiations procedure. In this respect, the Negotiating framework is most similar to the one that the Commission prepared for Montenegro. In our case, however, it also contains some specific provisions relating primarily to progress of Belgrade-Pristina relations.
On the other hand, R. Serbia will develop its own negotiating platform in the coming period, which will include its commitment to the EU objectives, readiness to comply with the EU acquis, explanation of the manner and timescale for alignment with the EU aquis in a given sector, as well as general indications of the areas where a transitional period for the adoption of the aquis or special arrangements or exemptions/opt-outs might be necessary.

2) First inter-governmental negotiating conference

Negotiations on accession are conducted within the framework of an Intergovernmental Conference of EU Member States, on the one hand, and the candidate country, on the other.
The first meeting of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Conference is an important political milestone, as it constitutes the formal commencement of the negotiations with the ЕU. It is an opportunity to exchange general positions between the EU and the candidate country, to present the negotiating teams and propose the calendar of meetings within the screening process which precedes the substantial negotiations, and every subsequent meeting of the inter-governmental conference where specific chapters of the "acquis" are negotiated (normally, on the fringes of the European Council, General Affairs Council or the Foreign Affairs Council).


3) Legislation screening

1. So far, in the practice of EU enlargements, except in the case of Montenegro, the opening stage of accession negotiations was followed by the phase of analytical screening of the legislation of the candidate country and assessment of the extent to which it has been aligned with the EU acquis, in respect of each negotiating chapter.
However, in the case of R. Serbia, as well as that of Montenegro, the screening process will begin practically even before the convening of the first inter-governmental conference, i.e. the opening of the negotiations for Chapter 23 (judicial system and fundamental human rights) and Chapter 24 (justice, freedom and security), bearing in mind particular EU interest for these issues. Due to the complexity of these matters, it has been announced that the EU negotiations with Serbia would be opened and closed with these chapters. The same principle will be also applied to Chapter 35 (miscellaneous) that will include “normalization of relations with Pristina”.
One of the basic objectives of screening is to identify the differences existing between the legislation of the candidate country and the EU aquis, in each of the negotiating chapters. After the analysis, the candidate country will be expected to demonstrate whether it will be able to fully accept the EU aquis in a specific chapter and align the differences identified in the legislation or whether it intended to request a certain period of transition2 in order to fully align and implement the legislation. As a matter of fact, accession negotiations are by and large negotiations on the timescale for the implementation.
The phase of analytical screening of the legislation begins with the so-called explanatory screening within which the EC will present to the candidate country the acquis divided into negotiating chapters. Subsequently, an assessment will be made, through the so-called bilateral screening, of the level of alignment of the candidate country’s legal system with the EU aquis and it will be determined what still needs to be done to achieve alignment with the EU aquis pending full membership.
 The EC has envisaged that the screening process for R. Serbia will last from September 2013 until June 2015.

2. After the screening meetings, that is, following the completion of bilateral screening, the EC will present to the Member States a Screening report containing recommendations on the commencement of the negotiations on a specific chapter or, if so assessed by the EC, also the opening benchmarks for specific chapters. Opening benchmarks are related to requests for the adoption of strategies and action plans, meeting the contractual obligations towards the EU, primarily the implementation of the Stabilization and Association Agreement, requests for the adoption of laws and by-laws, etc. Opening of the negotiations on chapters for which opening benchmarks have been set can begin only after the EU Council decides that the candidate country has fulfilled those benchmarks.
- If the EU Screening report contains benchmarks for opening the negotiations, the EU Council will invite Serbia, after it has assented to them, to submit its Action Plans including a series of actions and measures that should be taken during the process of alignment with the EU system and legislation.
- After the EU Council has conceded to the Action Plans, the EC will submit an Opening Benchmark Assessment Report (OBAR).
- As soon as the benchmarks for opening the negotiations on a particular chapter are fulfilled (and the recommendations are approved by the Member States), the EU Council will invite Serbia to present its negotiating platform/position for a specific chapter where the reached level of alignment with the EU acquis would be presented, as well as the programme of the remaining alignment, the review of the administrative implementation capacities, requests for transition periods or derogations as permanent waivers in the implementation of the acquis in a particular area. During the negotiations, a candidate country, i.e. Serbia, may submit to the EU an amendment to, or a modification of, its negotiating positions.

4) Draft European Union Common Position
 After the presentation of Serbia's negotiating position, the EC will submit to the EU Council for adoption the Draft European Union Common Position where the EU can note that:
 - the candidate country has achieved in the particular chapter a sufficient level of alignment with the EU acquis and that further negotiations on that chapter were not necessary. In which case, the chapter will be temporarily closed.
- In most cases, the EU will conclude that the level of alignment does not allow that chapters be temporarily closed and that the EU will determine the closing benchmarks that the candidate country will have to fulfil before the chapter may be closed.
- For particularly significant chapters (e.g. 23, 24 and 35), the EU will determine temporary or interim benchmarks and only after their fulfilment, the closing benchmarks will be defined.
Furthermore, in its Common Position, the EU will request the candidate country to submit additional information and analyses, primarily in the areas for which transition periods or derogations have been requested.

5) Opening of chapters

Based on the Commission’s proposal, the EU Council unanimously decides on opening negotiations on a given chapter, which is followed by the holding of an inter-governmental conference on all chapters (normally, on the fringes of the European Council, General Affairs Council or the Foreign Affairs Council).
In rare instances where there are no interim benchmarks and closing benchmarks, a chapter can opened and closed at the same inter-governmental conference. However, when the said benchmarks do exist, the candidate country will continue to work on their fulfilment and will regularly submit a progress report to the EC.
 
6) Negotiations and closing of chapters
 
Negotiations on specific chapters are opened and temporarily closed within the framework of the inter-governmental conference.
If closing benchmarks have been agreed, the candidate country will continue the work on their fulfilment and regularly submit to the Commission a progress report to that effect. 
When the Commission notes that closing benchmarks have been fulfilled, the chapter can be formally closed at an Inter-Governmental Conference, provided the Governments of all Member States are satisfied with the progress made by the candidate country in the sector covered by the respective chapter. Furthermore, the chapters are considered temporarily closed pending conclusion of the accession negotiations, meaning that “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed”.
One of the novelties introduced during the negotiations with Montenegro relating to Chapters 23 and 24 is the obligation of semi-annual reporting to the Council of Ministers by the EC on the progress made with respect to these chapters and sporadic dispatching of experts on field missions. In the case of Serbia, this will also apply to Chapter 35 that will include the issue of normalization of relations between Belgrade and Pristina, which will, together with Chapters 23 and 24, be open from the beginning to the completion of the negotiations. The European External Affairs Service (EEAS) will be tasked to monitor and report on the fulfilment of the conditions under Chapter 35.
In the event of serious violation of the basic EU principles, the EU Council may decide, at the recommendation of the Commission or one third of EU Member States, on temporary suspension of the negotiations and the conditions that the candidate must fulfil before the negotiations can resume.
The duration of the negotiations largely depends on the period of time in which the candidate country will be ready to fully respect the obligations emanating from EU membership. On the other hand, it also depends upon EU readiness to admit new Member States.

7) Closing of all Chapters

 The negotiations on EU accession are concluded once the EU and the candidate country have reached agreement on all 35 chapters, and when that is confirmed by the European Council. Prior to this, there is a possibility of reopening the chapters if a candidate country does not deliver on the commitments it has assumed. Ahead of the conclusion of the accession negotiations, it is necessary to determine the entry date because of the need to close, in particular, those chapters having financial implications.
After closing the negotiations on every single chapter, the EC will draw up a special report with an overview of the situation and assessment of the overall preparedness of the candidate country to undertake responsibilities based on EU membership, with a recommendation to conclude the accession negotiations. This recommendation will undergo the same procedure on the level of the EU Council, i.e. COELA-COREPER-GAC (General Affairs Council) which will agree that the Final Inter-Governmental Conference formally takes note of the fact that the negotiations have been concluded and proposes the signing of the Accession Treaty and the date of receiving the status of an EU Member State. This is further noted in the conclusions of the European Council.

8) Signing of the Accession Treaty

The results of the negotiations are incorporated into the draft Accession Treaty which contains: accession date, negotiation results, conditions for accession and transitional measures in areas identified by the Commission as requiring further harmonization, adaptation of institutions and agreements, distribution of votes in the EU Council and the European Parliament (EP), number of Members of the European Parliament envisaged for the candidate country, etc.
The Treaty will be examined by the Commission and the European Parliament before a unanimous decision is adopted by the Council of the European Union. The Treaty is, subsequently, signed by the candidate country and by representatives of all EU Member States.

9) Ratification and full membership

In the period between concluding the Accession Treaty and the envisaged accession date, the Treaty is subject to ratification in the EU Member States and the acceding State. Only after ratification has been completed in all of the above states, will the candidate country actually become a full-fledged EU member.

Conclusion

The information contains a theoretical review of the course of the negotiations on EU accession based on the experiences from the previous waves of enlargements, with emphasis on the case of Montenegro. It is necessary to bear in mind that this is a general scheme of the negotiating process and that the EU had introduced novelties, on a case-by-case basis, depending on the specific nature of the candidate country. Accordingly, interim benchmarks were introduced for the first time in the negotiating process with R. Croatia; the novelty in the case of Montenegro is that the screening process started even before holding the first Inter-governmental conference indicating the commencement of the negotiations, which will also be the case with Serbia. Additionally, the accession negotiations with Montenegro started with Chapters 23 and 24 which will be open throughout the negotiating process and that will be the case with Serbia as well.
What is specific for Serbia is Chapter 35, which generally did not seem to be a problem for the candidate countries, that is, it did not run counter to the interests embraced in their national and foreign policy priorities. It is also worth noting that, depending on the existence of opening benchmarks, closing benchmarks or interim benchmarks, it is possible to have different procedures in the course of the negotiations on each chapter (Annex 2). The given negotiations matrix indicates all the complexity, scope and duration of the EU membership negotiating process.
Although the essence of EU accession negotiations is the adoption of legal acts and their alignment with the EU acquis, much more attention is now being devoted to their implementation, due to the experience with some of the new EU Member States, Bulgaria and Romania in the first place, where the implementation of the adopted EU acquis went slowly. Furthermore, while in the previous enlargements, political criteria were essential for beginning the negotiating process and once the process was opened the focus was shifted to economic/legal issues, in the case of R. Serbia the political criteria will continue to be an important factor (the issue of normalizing the relations with Pristina and its repercussions on other areas) even after the negotiating process begins. It should also be noted that the process of Serbia’s EU accession is taking place against a different politico-economic backdrop in the EU as compared to previous enlargements.
The negotiating process towards EU membership basically implies work on the national level, i.e. the adoption and implementation of the EU acquis or taking reform steps, which requires consensus of all actors. On the other hand, it is essential to ensure the support of the EU Member States for the entire negotiating process, both for the political, as well as its economic/legal aspects.

Annex 1:

Negotiating Chapters

1. Free movement of goods
2. Free movement for workers
3. Right of establishment and freedom to provide services
4. Free movement of capital
5. Public procurement
6. Company law
7. Intellectual property law
8. Competition policy
9. Financial services
10. Information society and media
11. Agriculture and rural development
12. Food safety, veterinary and phytosanitary policy
13. Fisheries
14. Transport policy
15. Energy
16. Taxation
17. Economic and monetary policy
18. Statistics
19. Social policy and employment
20. Enterprise and industrial policy
21. Trans-European networks
22. Regional policy and coordination of structural instruments
23. Judiciary and fundamental rights
24. Justice, freedom and security
25. Science and research
26. Education and culture
27. Environment
28. Consumer and health protection
29. Customs union
30. External relations
31. Foreign, security and defence policy
32. Financial control
33. Financial and budgetary provisions
34. Institutions
35. Other issues

 
Annex 2 – Conduct of Negotiations

I. Shortest Procedure – without specific benchmarks

Explanatory screening

Bilateral screening

The EC prepares a Screening Report

The EU Council endorses the Report and invites the Candidate Country to submit its Negotiating Position

The Candidate Country submits its Negotiating Position

The EC draws up a Draft EU Common Position on the basis of the above Negotiating Position

The EU Council adopts the Common Position and convenes an Intergovernmental Conference

Chapter is opened and temporarily closed at the Intergovernmental Conference


II. Procedure with opening benchmarks for the negotiations on a specific chapter

Explanatory screening

Bilateral screening

The EC prepares a Screening Report and recommends the Opening Benchmarks for the Chapter to the Council

The EU Council endorses the Screening Report and Opening Benchmarks and invites the Candidate Country to meet the requirements contained therein

The EC performs monitoring, and when the Candidate Country meets the requirements, it drafts the Opening Benchmark Assessment Report – OBAR and submits it to the Council

The EU Council adopts the OBAR and requests the Candidate Country to submit its Negotiating Position

The Candidate Country submits its Negotiating Position

The EC draws up a Draft EU Common Position on the basis of the above Negotiating Position

The EU Council adopts the Common Position and convenes an Intergovernmental Conference

Chapter is opened and temporarily closed at the Intergovernmental Conference

III. Procedure with closing benchmarks for the negotiations on a specific chapter

Explanatory screening

Bilateral screening

The EC prepares a Screening Report

The EU Council endorses the Report and invites the Candidate Country to submit its Negotiating Position for the given chapter

The Candidate Country submits its Negotiating Position

The EC draws up a Draft EU Common Position on the basis of the above Negotiating Position and recommends the Closing Benchmarks

The EU Council adopts the EU Common Position and Closing Benchmarks and convenes an Intergovernmental Conference

Chapter is opened and closing benchmarks are taken note of at the Intergovernmental Conference

To be followed by the holding of Negotiating Conferences and technical consultations with the Mission

The EC monitors the development and when closing benchmarks are fulfilled, it drafts a respective report and recommends the Council to temporarily close the chapter

The EU Council endorses it and at the next Intergovernmental Conference it temporarily closes the chapter


IV. Procedure with opening and closing benchmarks for the negotiations on a specific chapter:

Explanatory screening

Bilateral screening

The EC prepares a Screening Report and recommends opening benchmarks for the chapter to the Council

The EU Council endorses the Screening Report and Opening Benchmarks and invites the Candidate Country to meet the requirements contained therein

The EC performs monitoring, and when the Candidate Country meets the requirements, it drafts the Opening Benchmark Assessment Report – OBAR and submits it to the Council

The Council adopts the OBAR and requests the Candidate Country to submit its Negotiating Position

The Candidate Country submits it and the EC prepares a Draft EU Common Position on the basis of the above Negotiating Position and recommends the Closing Benchmarks

The EU Council adopts the EU Common Position and Closing Benchmarks and convenes an Intergovernmental Conference

Chapter is opened and closing benchmarks are taken note of at the Intergovernmental Conference

To be followed by the holding of Negotiating Conferences and technical consultations with the Mission

The EC monitors the development and when closing benchmarks are fulfilled, it drafts a respective report and recommends the Council to temporarily close the chapter

The EU Council agrees and at the next Intergovernmental Conference it temporarily closes the chapter


V. The longest procedure (opening and closing benchmarks for the negotiations on a specific chapter, and interim benchmarks):

Explanatory screening

Bilateral screening

The EC prepares a Screening Report and recommends Opening Benchmarks for the chapter (Action Plans) to the Council

The EC performs monitoring, and when the Candidate Country meets the requirements, it drafts the Opening Benchmark Assessment Report – OBAR and submits it to the Council

The EU Council notes that the Opening Benchmarks have been met and invites the Candidate Country to submit its Negotiating Position

The Candidate Country submits it and the EC prepares a Draft EU Common Position on the basis of the above Negotiating Position and recommends the interim benchmarks
  ↓
The EU Council adopts the EU Common Position and Interim Benchmarks and convenes an Intergovernmental Conference

Chapter is opened and interim benchmarks are taken note of at the Intergovernmental Conference

To be followed by the holding of Negotiating Conferences and technical consultations with the Mission

The EC monitors the development and when interim benchmarks are fulfilled, it recommends the Council to invite the Candidate Country to submit an Interim Negotiating Position

The EU Council endorses the EC recommendation and invites the Candidate Country to submit its Interim Negotiating Position

On the basis of which the EC draws up an Interim Draft EU Common Position and recommends Closing Benchmarks

The EU Council agrees

The EC performs monitoring, and when it assesses that the Closing Benchmarks have been fulfilled, it draws up and submits to the Council a Draft Final EU Common Position and recommends temporary closure

The EU Council agrees and convenes the Intergovernmental Conference

The Intergovernmental Conference (temporarily) closes the chapter

The EC performs monitoring and submits semi-annual reports to the EU Council

Just before accession, the EC submits its Final Report on Accession Negotiations

 


Accession Negotiations
Information Concerning the EU accession negotiating process
Accession Negotiations