Hungary accepts transition period for workers
Hungary accepts controversial EU curbs for its workers and takes the lead in enlargement negotiations
The following chapters were closed at the negotiation meetings between the EU and twelve candidates on 12 June:
- Bulgaria: Company law (10 chapters closed in total);
- Cyprus: Free movement of persons (22 chapters closed in total);
- Czech Republic: Culture and audiovisual (19 chapters closed in total);
- Estonia: none (19 chapters closed in total);
- Hungary: Free movement of persons; Free movement of capital; Taxation (22 chapters closed in total);
- Latvia: Freedom to provide services; Social policy and employment (15 chapters closed in total);
- Lithuania: Freedom to provide services; Fisheries (17 chapters closed in total);
- Malta: none (16 chapters closed in total);
- Poland: none (16 chapters closed in total);
- Romania: none (6 chapters closed in total);
- Slovakia: Customs union (17 chapters closed in total);
- Slovenia: none (20 chapters closed in total).
The Swedish Presidency said the recent progress in enlargement negotiations was "a qualitative step forward in the enlargement process". The Presidency met the objectives, set out in the "Road Map" for enlargement negotiations, adopted by the EU leaders at the Nice Summit in December 2000.
The closure of negotiations on environment with the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary and Slovenia is seen as the first major breakthrough in enlargement negotiations as this topic is one of the most difficult. The Swedish Presidency also scored a success in reaching EU common negotiation positions on the free movement of people and capital. The Czech Republic and Hungary have accepted the EU's offer of transition periods for the sale of real estate to non-nationals, and the Czech Republic accepted the EU's request for curbs on its citizens seeking employment in the EU up to seven years after accession.
For the first time negotiations led to real differentiation between the candidate countries, with candidates of the second group catching up with the frontrunners. Lithuania and Slovakia, who started negotiating in 2000, have overtaken Poland who started negotiating in 1998.
Hungary was the first candidate to close negotiations with the EU on the controversial issue of the freedom of movement of persons. At a negotiation meeting at foreign ministers level in Luxembourg on 12 June, Hungary accepted the proposed seven-year transition period for its workers. After this round of negotiations, Hungary and Cyprus are in the lead with 22 chapters closed each, and Slovenia is third with 20 chapters closed.
In the area of the free movement of capital, including the controversial issue of transition periods for the purchase of land by foreigners, the EU offered the candidate countries a possibility of 5-year transition periods to ban the purchase of secondary homes by non-nationals, and 7-year transition periods for agricultural land and forests. The transition period on agricultural and forestry land relates to Hungary, the Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia, and Bulgaria; for secondary homes to Hungary, the Czech Republic and Poland. Other candidates made no requests for transition periods in this area.
In the area of the free movement of people, the EU requested up to 7-year transition periods from the ten Central and Eastern European candidates. Citizens of Cyprus and Malta will be able to work in the EU immediately after their accession. The job curbs may be dropped after the first two years if the current Member States consider there is no danger of mass immigration from Eastern Europe that could destab ilise their labour markets.
EU Enlargement Commissioner GýVerheugen said on 12 June that Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovenia and Cyprus were expected to complete negotiations by the end of 2002. Poland is now seen as lagging behind the frontrunners, and will have difficulty accepting controversial compromises before the September general election.
The Belgian Presidency of the EU, which takes over from Sweden on 1 July, will continue negotiations on competition policy, transport policy, energy, taxation, customs union, agriculture, fisheries, justice and home affairs, and financial control, as scheduled by the "Road Map". All the financial issues will be dealt with under the Spanish Presidency in the first half of 2002. Negotiations with the most advanced countries could be concluded by the end of 2002, allowing them to join by the end of 2004.