Strengthening the Union through Enlargement

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Strengthening the Union through Enlargement

Danuta Hübner, Poland’s Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, addressed an EPC briefing on 24 June 2002, on “Strengthening the Union through Enlargement.” A question and answer session followed. This is not an official record of the proceedings and specific remarks are not necessarily attributable.

Mrs Hübner rebutted all the key “myths” about the supposed consequences of enlargement – decision-making paralysis, a slowing down of the reform process, an explosion in the size of the EU budget and a general weakening of the Union. The potential for paralysis had always been the main concern, she said. The same fear had been expressed when Britain, Ireland and Denmark joined, but the EU had not ceased to develop with subsequent enlargements. But it was true that decision-making had to become more efficient as the EU grew, and Mrs Hübner said she was sure that more efficiency would be achieved through the reform of the institutions.

Enlargement – impetus for reform

The Council would become more efficient and open to public scrutiny and she favoured the creation of teams of Commissioners responsible for major policy areas. The alternative was to reduce the total number of Commissioners to ten or twelve, but that was something that would not be acceptable to many of the candidate countries, which would all want one each.

Procedures could be simplified by extending qualified majority voting, although key areas, such as own resources, would remain subject to unanimity. Mrs Hübner said she was in favour of the community method, which was essential for the internal market and many other areas. Enlargement was helping the reform process, she argued, because without enlargement there would be no such discussions at all. So, far from “strangling” decision-making, enlargement was improving it.

On internal security, she said the removal of internal borders had to go hand in hand with measures to protect the public and ensure security, including cooperation between police forces and continued investment in the Schengen system. Greater security in an enlarged Europe depended on working closely with neighbours, as Poland had done in the last decade.

The fear that enlargement would actually slow down reform was driven by those worried that existing Member States would try to cling to the status quo. However, Poland’s own economic and social progress in the last 12 years showed how ready the candidates were to embrace reforms and the process had to continue: “We cannot afford a Union that does not reform.”

Costs of Enlargement

Poland was making enormous efforts to implement the “acquis”, with tens of thousands of Polish officials being trained and educated in the ways of the EU. Mrs Hübner welcomed the fact that the Commission would be monitoring performance long after accession was agreed: “We want to be seen to perform our EU duty in a proper way – and we don’t want to defend ourselves in court every day: it’s simply too expensive.”

On the budget, Mrs Hübner said the idea of a huge explosion in EU running costs because of enlargement was incorrect. Ten years ago “staggering” figures were produced estimating a 40 billion euro-a-year price tag for the Common Agricultural Policy. By the time of the Madrid summit in 1995 the estimate was down to 12 billion euro, and the Berlin framework had brought that figure today down to about 4 billion euro – although that would not be achievable if there was a 100% direct payments system.

Neither was it true that access to funds was the sole interest of the candidate countries. In Poland’s case, a recent survey showed that EU membership was more about quality of life and education, with access to funds in tenth place. We should not look too narrowly at budget costs,” she said.

Summing up, she said that enlargement would neither cause chaos nor weaken the Union. But the negotiations had yet to be concluded and the financial settlement would not be easy. Nevertheless, the hope was still to complete by the December Copenhagen summit this year, with a view to signing up in Spring 2003.

Mrs Hübner predicted that there could be a “quite dramatic end-round” to the enlargement talks, but the most important thing was not to delay the negotiations. “It is important that we join in a wave of enthusiasm and optimism – and this wave must be maintained after enlargement.” She added: “If we have this optimism and support, we can play a considerable role on the future of Europe.”

Discussion

Answering questions, Mrs Hübner was tackled about the place ofPoland’s religious faithsin the European Union, and she acknowledged that it was important to get back to core values such as democracy, peace and solidarity. Such values had to be recognised in a constitutional Treaty, including national cultural identities, something that was very important in Poland.

On moves to makeabortion“safe, legal and accessible to all” (a European Parliament resolution is being discussed at the July plenary session), she acknowledged that her country’s laws on the issue were more restrictive than most – and she did not think early changes were likely, regardless of EU membership.

She saiddevelopment cooperationhad become an important issue in Poland. Since joining the OECD in 1996 Poland had become a donor country as well as a recipient country. The target of dispensing 0.7% of GDP on development aid was still far off, though, she conceded.

On thecommunity methodfor decision-making, Mrs Hübner said there was a need to be pragmatic on complex issues, with recognition of a continuing need for some inter-governmentalism. There should certainly not be a revolutionary approach to EU change, and removing the current “pillar” structure would be a revolution.

She was asked about thepharmaceuticals industryand the current crop of investigations against countries, including Poland, for infringing the rules. Mrs Hübner said her country’s approach had been driven by consumer interests, particularly to enable pensioners and other needy people to have access to cheaper medicines (“generics”).

Pressed on theelection of a future Commission President, she said an election by MEPs would be acceptable. The only danger was that the political make-up of the European Parliament, and the factional groupings in such a vote, would not necessarily reflect the public view.

Mrs Hübner was asked how enlargement would affectbilateral trade relations with Russia and Ukraine. She pointed out that, with external tariffs set to fall – from an average 15.8% to 4.1% – the prospects for more trade were good. In fact, Poland’s enlargement should give its non-EU trading partners a boost all round.

On the need forequality of treatment, she acknowledged there were inequalities during the transition phase. Poland certainly needed billions of euros over several years to comply with EU environmental standards. And transition rules were needed in Poland on land acquisition, a subject that deeply divided the Poles. Financial or political constraints made it necessary to barter for the best possible transitional arrangements.

The Polish government had no view onreform of the CAP, she said, but the approach being taken by Agriculture Commissioner, Franz Fischler, seemed to be in line with Poland’s need to modernise its farm sector. “I hope that the future direction of the reform programme will support the change in Polish agriculture that we are obliged to go through.”

OnKaliningrad, Mrs Hübner said that would be “huge challenge” for the Russian government. But Poland had three key issues, which had to be met in any resolution of Kaliningrad’s status as a non-EU territory within an EU State. First, Poland could not accept any “corridor” arrangement through Poland that would imply transit without visas. Secondly, Poland had to remain inside the Schengen system, and a lot of flexibility was still available. Thirdly, nothing that was linked to Poland’s interests could be decided about Kaliningrad “above our heads.”

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