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Candidate states vetted in EU Commission progress report

In its annual report on EU candidates, the European Commission has signalled its readiness to resume talks with Turkey. It has also recommended putting Albania on track toward entering accession negotiations.

The European Commission released its assessment of and recommendations for countries seeking EU member status on Wednesday. The analysis was published as part of its yearly report "Enlargement Strategy and Main Challenges 2013-2014."

Candidates or aspirants must comply with EU standards and rules in order to be considered. Commissioner Stefan Füle reiterated the importance of the EU's criteria for taking on new countries.

"Enlargement continues to be one of the most effective EU policies," Füle said in a statement.

"By addressing 'fundamentals' first - such as the fight against corruption, sound economic governance, freedom of expression and media, human rights and protection of minorities - it strengthens political and economic stability in the aspiring countries and the EU as a whole," he said.

The EU is currently evaluating eight nations, most of which lie in the western Balkans, for their suitability as potential member states. Of those, five have received the status of candidate: Turkey, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia.

Meanwhile, Albania, Bosnia and Herzogovina and Kosovo are considered "potential candidates."

Good economic governance 'essential'

In addition to its emphasis on human rights and fundamental freedoms, the Commission said in its press release on Wednesday that it had provided several proposals for ensuring sound economic policies in candidate countries.

"The global economic crisis has underlined the need for all countries to strengthen their economic governance and improve competitiveness."

Negotiations with Turkey to resume

The European Commission focused in particular on Turkey and Albania in the assessment, indicating its desire for negotiations with various candidates to move forward.

The report criticized Turkey for "uncompromising stance in the face of dissent" and "excessive force" by police against protesters in the summer during a wave of mass demonstrations.

However, it also noted some positive signs in Ankara, including judicial reforms and the commencement of a peace process with Kurdish groups in the country's south east, and recommended that talks resume.

"The Commission underlines the importance for the EU to enhance its engagement with Turkey, so that it remains the benchmark for reforms in the country," the European Commission said.

The recommendation did not prompt a positive reaction from the Turkish minister responsible for EU relations, Egemen Bagis, who said the long-drawn out negotiations had fatigued Turkey and caused interest in joining the EU to decrease among its citizens.

Albania to become candidate

The Commission in its report recommended that Albania receive the status of candidate, citing its progress in the fight against corruption and "smooth and orderly" elections earlier this year.

Albania applied for membership in 2009, but was only granted potential candidate status while it worked to improve its record fundamental rights.

The European Commission on Wednesday said the new status for Albania would be granted on the condition that it continued "to take action n the fight against organised crime and corruption."

There was no immediate comment available from Tirana.

Room for improvement

The EU executive singled out Bosnia and Herzogovina for its disappointing performance, citing its failure to implement a European Court of Human Rights judgement prohibiting discrimination of citizens based on ethnicity.

"Results achieved so far by Bosnia and Herzegovina's leaders remain below expectations," said the commission.

Negotiations were recommended to move forward with candidates Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, as well as with potential candidate Kosovo.

kms/ipj (AFP, Reuters, dpa)