Candidate countries welcome timetable for enlargement and statement that process is irreversible despite Irish “No”
The Gothenburg Summit said: “The enlargement process is irreversible. Based on the progress achieved so far, the European Council reaffirms the road map as the framework for the successful completion of the enlargement negotiations. Provided that progress towards meeting the accession criteria continues at an unabated pace, the road map should make it possible to complete negotiations by the end of 2002 for those candidate countries that are ready. The objective is that they should participate in the European Parliament elections of 2004 as members.”
The target dates, mentioned in the Gothenburg conclusions, do not differ from those stated by the Nice Summit of December 2000: “In the European Council’s view, that strategy, together with the completion of the Intergovernmental Conference on institutional reform, will place the Union, in accordance with the objective set by the European Council in Helsinki, in a position to welcome those new Member States which are ready as from the end of 2002, in the hope that they will be able to take part in the next European Parliament elections.”
The main difference seems to be the wording: while the Nice European Council expressed “the hope” that the new Member States will be able to take part in the next European Parliament election, the Gothenburg Summit speaks of “the objective”. The Gothenburg Summit also said that candidate countries will be able to participate in the European Parliament elections even if their accession treaties will not have been formally ratified.
Despite the fact that there is little difference between the commitment to enlargement timetable as expressed by the Nice and Gothenburg conclusions, candidate countries leaders welcomed the Gothenburg declaration as progress. There are different interpretations among the Member States: some claim that Gothenburg fixed the target dates, while others believe that conclusions only gave a timetable.
The Swedish Presidency, backed by Britain and Denmark, pushed for fixed target dates at the Summit. However, France, Germany, Greece, Belgium and Finland opposed this, saying that it would be inconsistent to set fixed target dates based on political objectives that, by definition, are uncertain, as the negotiations on the most difficult issue of agriculture will not even have started by that time.
Germany fears that Poland would not be ready for membership by the end of 2002, and would be excluded from the group of the most advanced candidates who expect to be able to join in 2004. German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder stressed that 2004 was "an objective, not a binding date".
As a result of these conflicting positions, the Gothenburg declaration is just a more precise rephrasing of the Nice Summit declaration on enlargement.
Polish Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek welcomed the Summit declaration on enlargement: "This is a very important signal that the EU does not slow down the pace of enlargement and that negotiations will be dynamic." He said the declaration was "in line with our programme, which envisages that Poland will be ready to enter the EU in 2003".
Estonian Prime Minister Mart Laar expressed satisfaction with the conclusions. He said that the Swedish Presidency delivered on the promise of a date to end negotiations.
Candidate countries welcomed the conclusions of the EU's Gothenburg Summit about enlargement, which state that the process is irreversible and that accession talks should be completed by the end of 2002. However, there seems to be some disagreement on whether the Summit set fixed target dates for accession or just a timetable.