From Copenhagen 1993 to Copenhagen 2002

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From Copenhagen 1993 to Copenhagen 2002

Sticking to the enlargement timetable

The Commissioner described the current round of enlargement as a “vast, complex, difficult task.” It was an enlargement like no other before it. A lot had been achieved since the framework for the process was set out at the Copenhagen summit nine years ago, but major challenges remained. Nevertheless, the Commissioner was in no doubt that the timetable would be met – coming full circle at the Copenhagen summit at the end of this year. He warned against delaying that deadline: any slippage would risk losing momentum and the support of the public, particularly in the candidate countries themselves.

The Commissioner said the negotiations were on schedule, helped by “surprising” progress during the Spanish presidency. The aim of completing negotiations with “most” candidate countries by the end of this year was “ambitious but realistic.” This round of enlargement had been better prepared than previous rounds and the Commission had put in place sophisticated monitoring systems and mechanisms to help the candidates build up their institutions and meet their new EU obligations.

The enlargement benefits were well known – stability in Europe and extension of markets. But there were also concerns among citizens about the effects and the Commission’s answer was that enlargement was not a problem, but part of the solution. The candidate countries would enjoy increased stability, while their participation in community policies would provide the basis for security and welfare for all EU citizens. “Enlargement is above all a concept of conflict prevention,” declared the Commissioner.

Negotiations on target for Copenhagen

The enlargement negotiations, launched in 1998, entered a new, more intensive phase last year, and more than 80% of the negotiating “chapters” would be provisionally closed by the end of June. These include 250 out of 260 technical chapters, which were identified at the Laeken summit as still to be closed. Chapters on competition policy were still proving difficult, but both sides were perfectly willing to find a solution. Ten countries therefore remained on target to conclude by the end of this year, thus qualifying to participate in the 2004 European Parliament elections.

In the last negotiating phase, the focus was on the “sensitive” financial arrangements – how to integrate the newcomers into the Common Agricultural Policy, the scope of regional aid and how to ensure the candidates would not be worse off, in budgetary terms, after enlargement than before.

The Commission’s position

The Commission’s three principles on these issues were

  • that the global budgetary ceilings agreed at the 1999 Berlin summit be respected;
  • that the new Member States take part in all common policies, even though there will have to be a phasing-in period in some areas;
  • that negotiations should be without prejudice to future agriculture and regional policy reforms – the enlargement negotiations and the reform debate were two separate issues.

Mr Verheugen said the Commission would make final recommendations in October as to which candidate countries were ready for accession. This would definitely not just be a symbolic gesture based on political and strategic criteria, but a genuine evaluation based on hard facts – and if any candidates were deemed unready, the Commission would not hesitate to say so. The December Copenhagen summit would then see the formal conclusion of the negotiations, as well as setting out a road map for the continuing talks with those of the original twelve candidates who will not form part of the first accession.

The Commissioner highlighted the importance of the candidates setting up and strengthening the institutions needed for implementing and enforcing the body of EU legislation. They needed modern, well-functioning public administrations, and well-trained judiciaries, versed in EU law. Much had already been done in this area but much remained to be done and a report on progress would be delivered by the Commission to the Seville summit later this month.

The candidate countries – taking on the acquis communautaire

Meanwhile, there were detailed and sophisticated Commission mechanisms for helping preparations in the candidate countries including monitoring, with regular reports setting out compliance with commitments and implementation of the “acquis.” There were also tailored action plans geared to the administrative capacity of each candidate and peer reviews – evaluation exercises on key areas such as food safety, justice and home affairs, financial services and nuclear safety.

Given the “impressive” amount of political capital the candidates had invested in the necessary reform processes – not least the transition from communist rule and centrally-planned economies to democracy and market economies – it was understandable that people now wanted to see “the light at the end of the tunnel.” Without that light, the appetite for further reform might well diminish, warned the Commissioner, if the perception grows that the goal of EU membership might never be reached.

Enlargement fears “exaggerated”

Mr Verheugen said he was sure public concerns about the consequences of enlargement could be met – concerns about an influx of cheap labour destroying EU employment, high property prices, soaring international crime, corruption and fraud. These concerns should be taken seriously but previous experience had shown most fears of acceding countries had been exaggerated. For example, Sweden had been concerned about the secondary residence market, while Spain and Portugal feared an invasion of cheap labour, but neither problem was as great as predicted. In this enlargement round there had already been solutions to fears about the free movement of labour and land acquisition in the candidate countries.

In many cases the fears expressed by the public were there regardless of enlargement, particularly in the case of trafficking in drugs and human beings. Indeed, enlargement should help to resolve such problems. There would always be public uncertainty when faced with the challenges of enlargement, as surveys had shown, and the business community, and other sectors of society had a responsibility alongside politicians to keep people informed.

Mr Verheugen said there would always be excuses for delay in the current enlargement process, but they had to be resisted: “The window of opportunity for enlarging the Union is now open. Our objective should be to make the saying ‘from Copenhagen to Copenhagen’ a reality”.

Discussion

Answering questions, the Commissioner said there was no need to increase thefinancial package available to the ten prospective newcomers, despite the fact that only six front-runners had been identified when the financial aspects of enlargement were set out at the Berlin summit in 1999. The originally low level of financing for the candidates had already been stepped up to a higher level, so the originally envisaged six candidates would not be carrying the financial burden of the other four.

There was no reason to change the Commission’s financial plans regarding enlargement. The overall ceiling would be used for the years 2004/5/6, but then more flexibility would be needed.

On the forthcomingFrench and German elections, the Commissioner did not see why the polls would affect support in those countries for enlargement. Whatever the outcomes, once EU countries made long-term commitments they tended to stick with them. It was inconceivable in the Netherlands, for example, that a change of political emphasis would mean rowing back on commitment to enlargement.

Mr Verheugen emphasised that there was no question of any of thecandidates joining the EU as net contributors. The Commission would achieve a financial solution, which would not only ensure they were not contributors, but also fulfil the pledge to ensure that they were actually better off in the year after accession than before. This could be through a lump sum payment system, as in previous enlargements, or through a phasing-in of full contribution.

Asked if there would be alast-minute “crisis”before the negotiations were complete, Mr Verheugen said there was no reason to think so: even with national elections, incoming governments found they could not change the world overnight and tended to honour previous commitments.

The Commissioner saidthis enlargement was like no otherbecause previously there was no “pre-accession” process, and there was simply an understanding that new Member States would implement the body of community law. Now there was full monitoring and reporting on all aspects, guiding the candidates through every facet of their membership obligations and helping with institutional and administrative problems.

The Commissioner insisted that propermonitoring would continue after accessionto resolve problems, such as equal opportunities and discrimination, but there was no question of treating the newcomers once they had joined any differently from the current Member States. It was in the interests of the candidate countries to continue cooperating with the Commission once they were in, not least because the Commission would be offering money for institution-building, including support for compliance with human rights.

Asked whether public support remained behind enlargement, considering recent polls showing scant knowledge within the candidate countries of what is happening, Mr Verheugen insisted that there was no lack ofdemocratic legitimacy in the current process. There had been few referenda in the existing Member States at the time of their membership, but the current candidate states could all be expected to seek support from voters. Meanwhile it was for business and NGOs to do more to promote better public knowledge of EU affairs and the value of enlargement.

Finally, he expressed the hope thatTurkey’s momentum towards EU membershipwould not be lost once the current wave of accession had been completed. Great strides had been taken by Turkey during its current “accession partnership” arrangement with the EU. Important political reforms had been achieved and more were on the way, including the abolition of the death penalty. The situation was improving, and Turkey had made the decision – it wanted to be an EU member and Mr Verheugen said the Commission considered it well worth supporting that process.

Conclusion

On behalf of The EPC,Hywel Ceri Jonesthanked Commissioner Verheugen for his presentation and for his replies to the questions. The EPC would continue to monitor the progress of the negotiations and arrangements would be made for a further briefing with the Commissioner between the two Summits at the end of the year.

For more analyses see The European Policy Centre’s

website.  

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