Verheugen predicts speedup of enlargement

Commissioner Verheugen sees window of opportunity for enlargement between 2002 and 2004

European Commissioner for Enlargement Günter Verheugen predicted a radical speedup of the EU enlargement process under the Swedish Presidency in the first half of 2001. “This will be a quantum leap in qualitative as well as quantitative terms,” said Verheugen.

Verheugen said that the EU Nice Summit has set a clear timetable, and there is now “a definite window for the first accessions”. “Firstly, negotiations with those countries that are suitably prepared should be concluded by the end of 2002; secondly, these countries should be able to take part in the European elections in spring 2004,” said Commissioner. He is convinced that given these time parametres, “actual accession scenarios will emerge quite naturally”.

He appealed to the candidate countries “to take advantage of this and step up their own efforts”. However, the enlargement process will not be speeded up at the expense of quality, warned Commissioner Verheugen.

He pointed out that “the weaknesses in the candidate countries’ preparedness that we identified in our progress reports need to be taken very seriously”. These shortcomings could get in the way of membership, he warned, and stressed that the candidate countries had to make “really determined efforts to bring in reforms, primarily administrative and judicial reform but also structural reform of their economy”.

Verheugen said that the Commission will propose draft negotiation positions on a number of sensitive issues under the Swedish Presidency. It will propose its position on the freedom of movement of workers, which is one of the most thorny issues, in March. German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder has recently proposed a seven-year transitional period on this issue, provoking protests from candidate countries leaders.

Another difficult enlargement area, agriculture, will only be open for serious negotiations in the first half of 2002, under the Spanish Presidency, said Verheugen. That is also the time of the next general election in France, where the impact of enlargement on EU agriculture is a serious issue.

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