“The heyday of European enlargement is well and truly at an end”, remarks Les Echos. The French business daily notes that on the 9 November in Brussels “(t)he change in attitude to the issue was apparent in the tone and words used by European Commissioner, Stefan Füle, who presented the report on the status of nine Balkan countries, as well as the applications made by Turkey and Iceland”.

According to the Les Echos, the Commission “has done little to move forward the applications of the nine countries that are knocking at its door, with the exception of the Former Yugoslavian Republic of Montenegro (FYROM), which has been awarded the status of candidate — a privilege not conferred on neighbouring Albania, which has been encouraged to do more to protect ‘the stability of institutions and safeguard democracy and the rule of law.’"

“Croatian accession in sight,” announces a delighted Vjesnikin Zagreb. Citing Commissioner Füle, the daily – which is close to the Croatian government – points out that “the last 100 metres of a marathon are always the most gruelling.” Most gruelling of all, Vjesnik notes, will be the last eight outstanding chapters in the 33-chapter negotiating process particularly concerning “the rule of law and the fight against corruption.”

Neither France nor Germany want to discuss the Turkey question

Novi List, another national daily, believes that Brussels “is waiting for Croatia to intensify its drive to combat high-level corruption, and to target scandals involving the ruling HDZ party, which has been accused of extorting funds from state companies.” Ongoing investigations have already implicated a government minister and the HDZ treasurer, as well as former prime minister, Ivo Sanader, who resigned for no apparent reason in 2009. In Poland, Rzeczpospolita argues that, Croatia aside, the EU has been “prudent and hesitant” in opening its doors to the new Balkan candidates. As for Turkey, which remains “an enormous problem for the EU,” the outlook is increasingly gloomy.

In Turkey, the press has barely raised the topic. Could it be that the Turkey is mainly focused on the anniversary of the death of Atatürk (10 November 1938), and is this yet another sign of waning enthusiasm for the EU? Hürriyet emphasisesthat the Commission was unhappy with Ankara’s failure to consult it on an amendment to the constitution approved on 12 September. The daily notes that the Commission report criticised the election threshold of 10% which parties must obtain if their representatives are to sit in national parliament, since because no EU state has such a harsh rule. According to the daily, this remark, which was absent from the 2008 and 2009 reports, is meant to encourage a greater Kurdish presence in parliament as a means to overcoming obstacles on the minority issue.

In Italy, La Stampa points out that dialogue between Brussels and Ankara “is apparently stalled over legal and political issues: the fate of the Kurds, unresolved disputes with Athens, human rights, and discrimination against women and religious minorities. However, the truth of the matter is that neither France nor Germany want to discuss the issue. And if these two countries are unwilling, no one will be able to put the application made on behalf of the Sublime Porte (ironic reference to the open court of the Ottoman sultan) back on track.”

We were overcome by feelings of weariness

More generally, “the EU has grown weary of enlargement,” notes Gazeta Wyborcza, explaining that apathy has been fuelled by the economic crisis and the significant influx of Romanian and Bulgarian migrants which followed the inclusion of both these countries in 2007. “The French, the Germans, and the Austrians are very reluctant to award rapid approval to new candidates. As a consequence, a number of Balkan governments, discouraged by the dwindling chances of accession in the next 10 years, are more likely to neglect the fight against corruption and violations of the right to free speech,” remarks the Warsaw based daily.

In this context, “the presentation of an annual report on enlargement and accession negotiations has become an empty and cliché-ridden exercise,” argues Der Standard. “Shortly after we ratified enlargement to the East and the inclusion of Romania and Bulgaria, we were overcome by feelings of weariness.” The Austrian daily goes on to point out that since then, whenever “the Commission certifies a number of small advances made by candidates like Croatia and Turkey — and more recently Iceland and Montenegro — it also highlights a number of unresolved political and economic problems. In fact, every one of these reports has resulted in heated public debate over Turkish accession.”

The widening rift over the question of enlargement has led us “to overlook fine details,” deplores Der Standard. “It is unfortunate that controversy over Turkish accession has obscured the fact that countries in the Balkans, the enlargement region closest to the Union, have made some major progress. [...] And this is particularly important to Austria. We should give up bickering over Turkey and do more to prepare for the inclusion of small Balkan states in the EU — which will probably be well before the inclusion of Turkey.”