The Commission has put Enlargement Commissioner
Günter Verheugen in charge of a new ‘Wider Europe’ task
force that will further develop the political concept of the
EU’s new neighbourhood policy.
The Commission’s decision to intensify its work in this
area is based on the decisions of the Thessaloniki European
Council (19-20 June 2003), which endorsed the approach
proposed by the Commission for strengthening relations with
the new neighbours of the enlarged EU.
While Commissioner Verheugen, assisted
by a ‘Wider Europe Task Force’, will be in charge of
drawing up action plans with the countries and regions
concerned, External Affairs Commissioner Chris Patten
retains the overall responsibility for external relations,
including bilateral relations with those countries.
The main tasks of the new structure will
- further develop the political concept of a new
- draw up action plans for the regions and countries
- pilot the action plans through inter-service
- prepare proposals for the new ‘neighbourhood
instrument’ which will finance joint projects involving
the enlarged EU and neighbouring countries;
- draw up plans for handling ‘Wider Europe’ policy in
the next Commission.
The Commission also decided on 9 July
2003 to create an Inter Service Group for the preparation
of the Commission Opinion on Croatia’s application for
membership. The opinion on Croatia’s application is
expected to be delivered in 2004 and the EU is expected to
invite Croatia to start accession negotiations soon
thereafter if the opinion is positive.
The Commission also decided on a few
changes in the leadership of its Enlargement and External
Relations directorates. Director General for Enlargement,
Eneko Landaburu (Spain), was awarded for successfully
completing the EU’s enlargement to 10 countries with the
post of Director General for External Relations. Fabrizio
Barbaso (Italy) will take over from Landaburu as acting
Director General for Enlargement. Mr Landaburu will take up
his new post on 1 September 2003, replacing Guy Legras, who
retires on 1 August.
The EU's relation with its neighbours is one of the top
priorities for the Italian Presidency of the Council. The
Italian government has presented its own 'Greater Europe'
plans, similar to those of the Commission. Italian Prime
has called on various occasions for the accession of the
Balkans, Ukraine, Russia, Byelorussia, Israel and Turkey to
, leader of the France's governing party UMP (Union for
Popular Movement), has dismissed the idea of a 'Greater
Europe', spanning the continent from the Atlantic to the
Ural, as once defended by General de Gaulle. He called for
the EU and Russia to represent two "poles of influence". He
underlined that with the current enlargement, the EU's
borders "have nearly been reached, with the exception of
the European Balkans, once they have regained stability and
The Commission proposed a new strategy for the enlarged
EU's relations with Russia and other post-Soviet states as
well as the Southern Mediterranean on 11 March 2003 (
see EURACTIV of 11
). The 'Wider Europe' strategy sets out a new framework for
relations over the coming decade with countries that do not
currently have a perspective of membership but that will
find themselves sharing a border with the Union after its
eastward enlargement in 2004. These countries are: Russia,
Byelorussia, Ukraine, Moldova, Algeria, Egypt, Israel,
Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Palestinian Authority,
Syria and Tunisia.
- 2004-2006: Neighbourhood Programmes are to be
launched, based on current legislation.
- Beyond 2006: a single New Neighbourhood Instrument
is to be created, applicable to all the areas covered
by the Union's existing co-operation programmes in the