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Enlargement strategy 2006-2007: challenges and integration capacity

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The current enlargement strategy outlines a renewed consensus on enlargement designed to ensure that the European Union has sufficient capacity to take in new members. This consensus is based on the existing strategy and enhances it in order to support countries on the way to membership, in particular on the basis of lessons drawn from the fifth enlargement. The consensus also proposes the means to strengthen public support with a view to future enlargements.

ACT

Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council of 8 November 2006, "Enlargement strategy and main challenges 2006- 2007. Including annexed special report on the EU's capacity to integrate new members" [COM(2006) 649 - Not published in the Official Journal].

SUMMARY

The current enlargement strategy outlines a renewed consensus on enlargement with a view to ensuring that future enlargements do not hamper the functioning of the European Union. The fifth enlargement demonstrated the EU's ability to operate normally while strengthening its visibility and weight on the international scene.

Enlargements contribute to the aim of establishing an area of peace and stability sharing common values, prosperity and competitiveness. They stimulate the economy and equip it for the challenges of globalisation, supported by the gradual extension of the euro zone (the last country to join being Slovenia on 1 January 2007). The free movement of workers - citizens of the new Member States - has also proved its advantages for the Member States who placed no restrictions on it, such as the UK (increased national income and overcoming of skills shortages on the labour market).

Previous enlargements have enhanced the enlargement process. Bulgaria and Romania continued throughout 2006 to prepare their accession on 1 January 2007 and serve as examples to candidate and potential candidate countries.

ENLARGEMENT PROCESS

The enlargement strategy is based on three principles identified by the 2005 strategy, namely:

  • the consolidation of commitments, i.e. compliance with commitments made and caution about making new ones;
  • rigorous and equitable accession conditions, i.e. preparing candidate countries to fulfil their obligations as Member States as of the time of accession. Each country is dealt with individually on the basis of its own progress and must keep motivated. Transparency of the process is also necessary;
  • communication to the public to make enlargement a success, i.e. ensure the support of citizens and the democratic legitimacy of the process.

The pre-accession strategy is based in particular on Accession Partnerships and European Partnerships, which identify the priority areas in which progress should be achieved. A European Partnership is proposed for Montenegro and the other partnerships will be reviewed at the end of 2007.

These partnerships constitute the framework for financial assistance: the Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance (IPA). This new instrument for the period 2007-2013 designed to assist candidate countries and potential candidate countries should provide more flexibility and impact in the allocation of Community funds, enable optimum use of resources and improve coordination with international financial institutions (IFI). The Commission will present a multi-annual financial framework identifying the amounts allocated by country and by field. Its implementation will be delegated to the Delegations of the Commission and then to the national authorities when they are ready.

The European Agency for Reconstruction is to cease its activities by the end of 2008, having achieved its main aims in Serbia, Montenegro and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

The accession negotiations, defined by a framework of negotiations, constitute a rigorous process. They are based on the adoption and implementation of the acquis and the acceptance of the political objectives of the treaties. They have begun for Croatia and Turkey and should encourage them to continue their reforms and establish good neighbourly relations.

Benchmarks * for the negotiation of each chapter of the acquis constitute a new tool introduced on the basis of the lessons drawn from the fifth enlargement. They aim to encourage the candidate countries to undertake reforms at an early stage. They are set for the opening and closure of each chapter and if they are not met, negotiations may be suspended or a provisionally closed chapter may be re-opened.

Political and economic dialogues also take place between the EU and the candidate countries to consolidate the process. The results of these dialogues are fed into the negotiations.

As regards the Western Balkans, the results concerning compliance with commitments arising from the Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA), in particular as regards trade, will constitute a key element of evaluation of the membership application. The EU will gradually introduce the diagonal cumulation of rules of origin in the SAA to stimulate trade and regional investment. Membership of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) will play an important role, although Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro and Serbia must make further efforts in order to join.

The EU, which reiterated in Salzburg in 2006 that the future of the Western Balkans lay within the EU, called on them to improve regional cooperation as a force for stability, economic development and reconciliation. A cooperation framework should be established. The Energy Community [EN] and European Common Aviation Area [EN] have become a reality and the signing of a regional free-trade agreement was being negotiated in 2006.

The EU intends to promote interpersonal contacts (among e.g. students and researchers) by concluding agreements to simplify visa procedures (except for Croatia) and readmission (except for Albania). It will also concentrate on key areas such as energy, transport and economic cooperation.

Public support for enlargement is essential. It depends on better communication of the advantages of enlargement, which entails increasing transparency, making key working documents public (regular reports, common negotiating positions, etc.) and posting specific user-friendly information on websites. All players must be involved in this communication process: the Member States, regional and local authorities, civil society with the support of the Commission, its representations and delegations, and the European Parliament.

Mutual understanding is also important and will be fostered by the dialogue between civil societies launched in 2005, which encourages in particular people-to-people contacts in the fields of culture, education and research.

CAPACITY TO INTEGRATE NEW MEMBERS

At the request of the June 2006 European Council (FR ) (pdf), the special report considers the EU's capacity to integrate new members in the medium and long term. As highlighted at the 1993 Copenhagen European Council, the EU's integration or absorption capacity must be considered for each enlargement in order to ensure smooth integration. The Commission will carry out impact studies at all stages of the accession process, taking account of the special characteristics of each candidate country as it did in its opinions on membership applications and during negotiations.

The functional concept of integration capacity means the EU's capacity to continue deepening as it widens. It concerns "whether the EU can take in new members at a given moment or in a given period, without jeopardizing the political and policy objectives established by the Treaties."

It is based on three key elements for which the Commission defines an evaluation method:

The EU's capacity to maintain the momentum of European integration. For effective functioning of the EU, institutional changes (languages, decision-making procedures, etc.) and budgetary adjustments are necessary. Ambitious common policies must continue to be put in place, with transition periods, derogations and other safeguards for the new Member States. The impact of enlargement on policies such as the common agricultural policy and the cohesion policy as well as on strategic areas such as energy or common foreign and security policy must be assessed;

Fulfilment of rigorous conditions by candidate countries so that they can carry out their role of Member States and take on and implement Community policies. The pre-accession process pursues this aim with a view to constantly improving the quality of preparations. Political reforms and the overall pace of negotiations will be further linked, but the date of accession will be determined by the completion of negotiations;

Better communication to ensure the democratic legitimacy of the process and prepare citizens for future enlargements (see above). Strict fulfilment of conditions and consideration for integration capacity support these aims.

CHALLENGES IN 2007

Because these challenges concern the security and stability of the EU, the latter must remain involved throughout the process.

After the fifth enlargement, the key challenge is to achieve a comprehensive settlement of the Cypriot problem and reunification of the island under UN auspices. The EU supports this process and is striving to help end the island's isolation (adoption of the Green Line Regulation guaranteeing free movement throughout the island and the aid programme for the Turkish Cypriot community).

As regards the candidate countries, Croatia and Turkey have begun accession negotiations and overall they meet the Copenhagen criteria. Both countries have undertaken reforms, although the pace in Turkey is slower. The Commission recommends that these efforts be continued and that the pace of reform be stepped up.

Croatia must focus on alignment on the acquis, judicial reform and public administration, the fight against corruption and economic reform. Regional cooperation and good neighbourly relations are also key, as is finding solutions to outstanding bilateral issues. Minority rights and refugee return will need close attention.

Turkey must make more efforts as regards freedom of expression (in particular by repealing Article 301 of the Penal Code), freedom of religion, women's rights, minority rights and trade union rights, the strengthening of civilian democratic control over the military and the harmonisation of law enforcement and judicial practices. The economic and social situation in the south-east and the rights of the Kurdish population must be improved. Turkey's relations with all the Member States must be normalised by full, non-discriminatory implementation of the Additional Protocol to the Ankara Agreement and the removal of all obstacles to the free movement of goods (declaration by the European Community and its Member States of 21 September 2005). The Commission will make recommendations on these matters to the December 2006 European Council (FR ) (pdf).

The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia has been a candidate country since December 2005, which constitutes both a recognition of the country's reform achievements and an encouragement to pursue reforms with a view to EU membership. It should accelerate the pace of reform, especially in the fields of the police and judiciary, the fight against corruption and the full implementation of the Stabilisation and Association Agreement as well as in the implementation of the Ohrid Agreement.

The potential candidate countries are making progress towards membership in accordance with the Road Map established by the Commission in 2005. The EU's relations with these countries will be reinforced with the establishment of the SAA. The EU signed an SAA with Albania and, pending its entry into force, an Interim Agreement on trade issues will enter into force on 1 December 2006. For Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro (which has been independent since June 2006 following the referendum) and Serbia, progression in negotiations of the SAA's depends on their full cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY).

Reinforcement of the institutions of these countries is essential and reforms should focus on political, judicial and economic reforms and the fight against corruption and organised crime. Bosnia and Herzegovina must consolidate its European prospects by undertaking the necessary political (especially constitutional) and economic reforms. Montenegro, whose priorities are identified in the draft European Partnership, must commit itself to reforms for the state-building process. Serbia faces major challenges, including the status of Kosovo; however, following its constructive approach to Montenegro's independence, it has made progress towards economic integration with the EU and the signing of the SAA should enable it to catch up with the other countries. Its new constitution should pave the way to reinforcing the country's system of governance. It has managed to preserve macro-economic stability, pursue privatisations and attract foreign investment. Visa facilitation and participation in Community programmes will support this progress.

Kosovo is also benefiting from the involvement of the EU, which is assisting UNMIK and supporting the process of status settlement conducted under the auspices of the UN Secretary General's Special Envoy, Mr Martti Ahtisaari. Major reforms (rule of law, economy and public administration, minority rights) will be necessary.

Key terms used in the act
Benchmarks: Their purpose is to improve the quality of the negotiations by providing incentives for the candidate countries to undertake necessary reforms at an early stage. Benchmarks are measurable and linked to key elements of the acquis chapter concerned. In general, opening benchmarks concern key preparatory steps for future alignment (such as strategies or action plans), and the fulfilment of contractual obligations that mirror acquis requirements. Closing benchmarks primarily concern legislative measures, administrative or judicial bodies, and a track record of implementation of the acquis. For chapters in the economic field, they also include the criterion of being a functioning market economy.

RELATED ACTS

Communication from the Commission to the Council and the European Parliament of 3 May 2006, "Enlargement, Two Years After - An Economic Success" [COM(2006) 200- Not published in the Official Journal].

Communication from the Commission to the Council of 29 November 2006, "Accession negotiations with Turkey" [COM(2006) 773 final- Not published in the Official Journal].

This summary is for information only and is not designed to interpret or replace the reference document.

Last updated: 17.04.2008
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