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The process of enlargement of the EU gives strong encouragement to political and economic reform in countries aspiring to membership and contributes to stability in Europe. On 8 December, the General Affairs Council took stock of the negotiations with Turkey and Croatia, the case of Iceland and the stabilisation and association process in the Western Balkans.
Croatia, Turkey and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia have all been candidate countries since 2005, but only the first two have started accession talks. The whole Western Balkan region has been granted a European perspective. Iceland applied for membership earlier this year.
Whilst recognising the positive steps taken by Turkey, foreign ministers stressed that it should accelerate the pace of reforms and make further efforts to ensure that it fully meets the EU's Copenhagen criteria, namely the conditions which apply to all candidates.
The membership talks with Croatia are now entering their final phase. Addressing the reforms still to be made and fulfilling all the requirements of membership will be essential if it is to meet its objective of concluding negotiations next year.
Iceland already benefits from being closely integrated with the EU through its membership of the European Economic Area and the Schengen area. The Council agreed to assess its application once the Commission has presented its opinion on the matter.
Following Serbia's efforts undertaken in cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, the Council agreed to implement the EU-Serbia interim agreement as soon as possible.
The Council reaffirmed its full support for the European perspective of the Western Balkans. It recalled that by making solid progress in economic and political reform and by fulfilling the necessary conditions and requirements, the remaining potential candidates in the Western Balkans should achieve candidate status, according to their own merits, with European Union membership as the ultimate goal.