16 OCTOBER 2002

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Strategy paper, progress reports and the Nice Treaty

European Commissioner for Enlargement Günter Verheugen speaks about the recently adopted Enlargement Strategy Paper, its implications and next Saturday’s crucial Irish referendum of the Nice Treaty

The publication of this year’s progress reports and the Enlargement Strategy Paper is a milestone on the road towards achieving one of the most difficult projects that the EU has ever undertaken. After a thorough and comprehensive analysis, the Commission is now proposing that the accession negotiations with ten candidate countries be concluded by the end of the year. The reason behind this recommendation is very simple: the countries have earned it. Through their own efforts, they have fulfilled the accession criteria.

The EU’s accession strategy has proved a success. It has supported the candidates in their drive to reach precisely defined goals at a number of staging posts. The most powerful motivation for achieving the necessary reforms was the clear and credible prospect of joining the EU.

The European Parliament supported us in our work with supplementary analyses and constructive criticism, and I would like to thank you for that support. As we enter the final stages, the European Parliament will play a decisive role.

In our analysis, we draw the conclusion that Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia will be able to meet all accession criteria and join the EU by the start of 2004. However, there are three major tasks to be completed in the intervening period.

First, the Treaty of Nice must be ratified. I would like to appeal to voters in Ireland, when they are deciding how to vote on the Treaty of Nice, to bear in mind that these countries’ future in Europe depends on their vote. These are countries that were kept apart from us against their will and now want to join our family permanently, once and for all.

Second, we must settle the remaining unresolved issues in the accession negotiations. The main points are the "financial package", as it is known, and the institutional questions, which are of particular relevance to this House. The Member States now need to demonstrate sufficient flexibility and willingness to compromise to ensure that common positions can be reached on these unresolved issues at the summit meeting in Brussels on 24 and 25 October.

Third, the candidate countries must carry on preparing for membership even after the negotiations have closed, until they actually join the EU. In particular, they must honour the commitments that they have made to the EU during the negotiations.

Our analysis is fair and it is based on objective criteria. It enables us to meet the EU’s political objective of accession before the elections to the European Parliament in 2004, without sacrificing the requisite clarity. I can assure you that we have left nothing to chance; we have unequivocally pointed out all shortcomings that still need to be addressed and all areas where specific preparatory measures are still required.

Our analysis is based on a tried and tested method of assessing progress in terms of laws, regulations and other measures actually adopted and implemented. This time, we reviewed not just the previous year but the period since 1997, and we have included our prognosis for the run-up to accession.

We had to make a prognosis. The candidate countries are not required to complete their preparations until they join. However, we have to conclude the negotiations now, to allow enough time for the political decision process. Rest assured: our prognosis has a solid foundation. It relies on a sound knowledge of the pace and quality of the preparations in each of the ten countries.

The process of EU enlargement is a broad one. Work towards the goal of enlargement, with the stringent preparations that involves, will continue for the countries that will not be taking part in this next round.

Romania and Bulgaria have set 2007 as their indicative date for their accession. The Commission will strongly support the two countries in achieving this objective. In the meantime, we propose a gradual but substantial increase in pre-accession assistance for those countries.

Turkey has been making major and very welcome progress towards meeting the accession criteria. Our pre-accession strategy for Turkey is having exactly the effect we hoped for. With regard to democracy, the rule of law and human rights, Turkey has changed more in the last eighteen months than in the last few decades. It was too much to expect Turkey to meet all the political criteria in full this soon, and the Commission clearly states what still have to be done. We want to encourage Turkey to push ahead with its bold reforms. The door stays open for Turkey.

We therefore propose stepping up pre-accession assistance for Turkey from 2004 on, with the aim of strengthening the public administration, promoting the adoption of Community law and economic integration with the EU.

We will continue to work towards our strategic goal of welcoming a united Cyprus as a new Member. The next few weeks will bring a "window of opportunity" for ending the decades-old conflict and providing all Cypriots with the chance of a better future. The conflict can be solved; it is a question of political will. As in the past, we will do all we can to facilitate the finding of a solution. The parties involved know that the EU intends to reach a decision in Copenhagen, and it will. I call on everyone involved to make one big final effort.

Overall, the Commission is of the opinion that all candidate countries have made significant progress towards meeting the Copenhagen criteria. That goes not just for the adoption but also for the implementation of Community law. It has also been gratifying to see the candidate countries honouring the commitments they gave during the negotiations. We believe that all ten countries will meet all of the Copenhagen criteria in time for accession at the beginning of 2004 as planned.

All candidate countries - with the exception of Turkey - meet the political criteria already. Significant progress has been made in improving the independence, transparency and efficiency of their public administrations.

In most countries, further improvements have been made to the legal system. However, in spite of general progress with regard to the political criteria, there are still some problem areas, which we identify clearly and unambiguously. These include shortcomings in the administration, corruption, minority rights and equality issues.

The assessment of progress towards meeting the Copenhagen economic criteria must be viewed in the context of the global economy. Nevertheless, most candidate countries managed to exceed the average EU growth rate of 2.6% in the period from 1997 to 2001. Cyprus and Malta have already fulfilled all economic criteria. Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, Hungary and the Czech Republic also have functioning market economies. These countries will be able to meet the competitiveness criteria too if they press on with their reforms with as much determination as before and focus on specific areas, named in our reports.

Bulgaria will be classed as a functioning market economy for the first time this year and it should meet the competitiveness criteria in the medium term.

Romania has also made good progress and should be classed as a functioning market economy in the medium term. Turkey too has moved towards a better-functioning market economy, despite two serious financial crises.

Most candidate countries have now adopted a large proportion of the Community acquis. However, they must now make further improvements to their administrative and institutional capacity.

This year’s reports reveal the areas where a special effort is still required. In particular, certain issues have still to be addressed in agriculture, regional policy, financial control and the customs union.

The Commission will continue with its regular monitoring to track developments in these and other areas over the coming months. We will produce a final comprehensive monitoring report six months before accession.

After accession, the Commission, as guardian of the Treaties, including the accession treaties, will continue to check that EU law is being properly implemented in the new Member States.

That is why we have introduced the concept of a safeguard clause, enabling us to intervene if the acquis is not implemented or in case of "disturbances" on the internal market. The safety clause is particularly important in relation to the internal market.

At this point I would just like to make one thing very clear: honouring the commitments they have given is the key to further change and successful development in the candidate countries. It is in their own interests to stay on course.

To make sure that the new Member States have the necessary administrative capacity in the next few years, we have made concrete proposals in the reports to endow the Institution Building Facility with EUR380 million for 2004-06. Thy particularly need to strengthen institutions dealing with justice, border controls, the customs union, veterinary services, nuclear safety and food safety.

When we look at the progress made in the accession process to date, the picture is overwhelmingly positive and supports our timetable.

Naturally, the progress reports we are presenting today focus on areas still in need of further attention. However, this should not be taken to mean that the shortcomings were in any way predominant. The reports must be viewed in the context of the enormous of progress made over the years. The full picture emerges only when you compare what has been achieved with what has still to be done.

We must also make every effort to keep the public in the current and future Member States informed about the enlargement and to win their support for it. This remains one of the most important objectives in the next stage, up to accession and beyond.

Parliament has a decisive role to play here and I would encourage you all to contribute to the wider debate, with those in favour of enlargement but also those who are still sceptical.

It should not come as a surprise to anyone that this scepticism still exists. What worries me most is the clear lack of information in many of the Member States. Everyone in political office should understand that enlargement will become a highly topical domestic issue everywhere as soon as the treaties are signed, if not before. We must do all we can to ensure that people do not feel that if they have been backed into a corner or are having unreasonable demands placed on them when it comes to deciding on accession at national level. What is needed is information, information and more information. It is available. We just need to make sure that the public use it. The chances of a successful enlargement are slim if the public is badly informed or not informed at all.

The goal of voters from 25 Member States from northern, eastern, southern and western Europe taking part in the next set of European elections, is now within sight. Let us achieve that goal of a united, democratic Europe, together with our neighbours in central, eastern and southern Europe.


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Editor: Saviour Balzan
The Business Times, Network House, Vjal ir-Rihan San Gwann SGN 07, Malta
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