EU Enlargement and the Western Balkans - 2015
The Department's Europe Division deals with the issue of EU Enlargement and has lead responsibility for the Western Balkans and Turkey.
The region has seen many transformative changes since the Balkan wars of the 1990s. These have been due, in some part at least, to the work that the current five countries with candidate status for EU membership are undertaking to join the EU. Serbia and Montenegro as well as Turkey, Albania and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia are candidate countries. Kosovo and Bosnia and Herzegovina are potential candidates for membership of the EU.
Europe Division worked closely throughout 2015 with Ireland's Permanent Representation in Brussels and our Embassies in the region. This work involved monitoring and assessing developments as the candidate countries strive to embed core European values, including human rights and other fundamental freedoms, into their societies.
The candidate countries are also seeking to improve their economic frameworks in order to help their own future national development and prosperity. The EU enlargement process sets rigorous standards in this regard across a range of areas from human rights to fisheries and to the information society. Ireland expresses our views and ensures that the benchmarks and criteria are met through our participation in official-level working groups and Ministerial-level Councils.
Ireland is traditionally a strong supporter of the EU enlargement process. In addition to our work with our European partners, we also assisted candidate countries directly during 2015. Initiatives included the sharing, in partnership with the Institute of Public Administration, of Irish expertise in the areas of public policy and change management with Serbia and Montenegro, which are both well advanced on their European path.
Along with other Irish Government Departments, we also facilitated visits from other Western Balkan delegations that allowed them to learn more about subjects such as Irish public service structures, Irish Civil Service Renewal programme and the range of measures being taken to advance Ireland's economic recovery. The visits also enabled learning about these countries' own perspectives on progress towards future EU membership.
As well as using our influence in the dialogue on progress towards Enlargement, we monitored closely the political and economic developments in the countries of the Western Balkans and Turkey. Through our Embassy network, we developed Ireland's direct bilateral relations with each of the countries of this important region. On St Patrick's Day 2015, our Embassy in the newest Member State of the European Union, Croatia, was officially opened in Zagreb.