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Olli Rehn

EU Commissioner for Enlargement

EU Enlargement Five Years on – a Balance Sheet and What Next

European Policy centre Breakfast
Brussels, 31 March 2009

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am glad to see that EU enlargement continues to be fascinating enough to collect such a distinguished audience on an early Tuesday morning.

Let me thank the European Policy Centre for organising this event and for consistently a lively and substantive EU enlargement over the years. It has been most valuable for Europe.

Today’s event is again very timely. Many Europeans have questions about EU enlargement in the middle of the economic crisis. This debate is likely to get even livelier in the run up to the European elections.

It is clear that the economy and jobs are the first and foremost concerns of our citizens today. Europeans are worried about the future of their jobs and welfare. I feel their pain, and I see that we must respond to our citizens' concerns by appropriate economic and employment policies.

This is what we want to do with the European Economic Recovery Plan, which has been endorsed by the recent European Summits. This is what we want to do with our proposals to reform global financial regulation, which set the agenda at the G20 Summit this week. And this is what we want to do, with the social partners, in the Jobs Summit in May, to break the negative cycle that threatens to deepen the economic crisis.

However, while combating the economic recession, we must not make EU enlargement a scapegoat for it, as it does not deserve that and as it is not responsible for our social ills. Questioning our commitments on EU enlargement will not help us at all to tackle the economic downturn.

Let’s keep in mind that our economic troubles are not the fault of a Serbian worker or Croatian civil servant. Rather, they stem from the system errors of financial capitalism – and originate from Wall Street, not the Main Streets of Zagreb and Belgrade. We must tackle myths with facts, and address our citizens’ concerns with smart economic policies.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I would like to address three key questions today:

1. First, what is the balance sheet of EU enlargement in 2004 and 2007?

This year marks a historic double-anniversary. 20 years ago, we saw the Berlin Wall come down and the democratic transformation intensify in Europe. In May, we shall celebrate the 5th anniversary of the EU enlargement that peacefully reunified Eastern and Western Europe.

This gives us a reason and also an opportunity to make a fair and factual balance sheet of the impact of the latest round of enlargement.

Overall, EU enlargement has served as an anchor of stability and democracy and a driver of personal freedom and economic dynamism in Europe. It has brought about peaceful democratic change and extended the area of freedom and prosperity to almost 500 million people.

Enlargement has increased our weight in the world – be it in international trade negotiations or when addressing issues of global nature, such as the climate change or development. It has substantially increased our crisis management capability, notably for peace-keeping missions.

On the economic impact, my colleague Joaquin Almunia and I presented a comprehensive study last month. Its main finding is that enlargement has brought benefits to people both in old and new member states.

To illustrate this with a concrete example: trade between the old and new member states grew almost threefold in less than 10 years (from €175 billion in 1999 to approximately €500 billion in 2007). And even more illustrative is the fivefold growth of trade among the new members themselves, from less than €15 to 77 billion in the same period.

This is a key factor explaining why, since 2004 until the current financial crisis truly broke out, there was a robust 1.5% annual growth in employment in the new member states – which went alongside continuous job creation in old member states, about 1% per year.

Institutionally, fears that a Union of 27 Members would face decision-making gridlock have proved unfounded. However, greater heterogeneity requires a greater effort to achieve common positions and policies.

Jacques Delors once said that to grow from 12 to 15 to 25 members we would need time, family spirit and an understanding of each others’ psychology and traditions. In other words, the contract of marriage between 27 countries has to be consolidated and supplemented.

To achieve this, we need to continue with internal reforms to make the EU deliver the results its citizens expect. The Union’s ability to function efficiently must, and can, be further improved. We’ve done it before, and we can do it again, if we have the political will – or rather as we have it.

2. What lessons have we learnt from the previous enlargements?

Recently, we’ve heard calls for consolidation of European integration. I can say that that's exactly what we have been doing in the past years.

This has been achieved by building on the three policy principles that the Commission proposed in 2005 and the Council confirmed in 2006 as our "renewed consensus on enlargement": Consolidation, Conditionality and Communication. You can call them the three Cs if you like.

These principles remain valid today. We have consolidated our commitments – we don’t make new commitments now, but we respect the existing ones given to the countries of South-Eastern Europe. We have reinforced conditionality for instance by introducing benchmarking methodology that has given spine and rigour to the accession negotiations with Croatia and Turkey. And we need to communicate the successes and challenges of enlargement better to the wider public.

How about the countries of South-Eastern Europe, then, which have been at the focus of our consolidated enlargement agenda since 2004? I recall my parliamentary hearings in 2004 when I was asked what my programme as the Enlargement Commissioner for the next five years would be. I said I wanted to do my part to deliver on six goals to be achieved during the present five-year term by the end of 2009:

In 2009 there would be an EU of 27 member states.

Accession process with Croatia would reach its final stage.

The other Western Balkan countries would be firmly locked into the European orientation by Association Agreements.

Turkey would be firmly on a European track.

Kosovo's status would be settled.

And Cyprus would be reunified.

Looking back at the past years, we have achieved five out of these six goals set in 2004. We have done so by working together with the European Parliament and the Council. And by the way, there is now a serious process going on to reunify Cyprus – our priority this year.

3. So my third question is: what is the way ahead?

In the Western Balkans, the European perspective has been instrumental in taming extreme nationalism and stabilising peace through democratic and economic transformation. We have seen a process of steady, although sometimes slow, stabilisation over the last few years.

Compared to many other regions in the world at the moment, South Eastern Europe portrays a certain relative political stability for the moment – not least thanks to its European perspective.

But we shouldn't lull ourselves into any kind of self-complacency as regards the future development of the Western Balkans, nor of Turkey. There is no end of history in sight, nor is there an eternal peace quite yet.

We should not put our achievements at risk, but instead firmly maintain the European perspective, with the ultimate goal of EU membership once the conditions have been met by each country on its own merits.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

To conclude, let me comment on one essential element of the 2006 renewed consensus, which is that we need to take into account the EU’s integration capacity. This refers not least to our institutional capacity.

For me, it is completely clear that we need at least the Lisbon Treaty to make our Union more effective and democratic, and also better able to pursue our common values and interests in the world. We needed the Treaty yesterday, and need it at the latest tomorrow.

But there is simply no reason to break off our successful policy of stabilisation of South-Eastern Europe – sometimes also referred to as enlargement – to achieve that. Let’s not play with fire. We should not take any sabbatical from our invaluable work for peace and progress that serves the fundamental interest of Europe and the Europeans.

The credibility of the EU perspective is the guarantee for what we have achieved so far, and for what we want to achieve in the future. It will help maintain stability and drive societal progress in South-East Europe.

We don't have to move at the speed of the Eurostar, but we need to keep on moving. The journey itself is at least as important as its destination.

Besides, we should recognise the fact that even the fastest scenario for the next accession of a new member state is still clearly slower than the slowest envisaged scenario for the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty. The time is on our side: we can pursue deepening and widening in parallel.

I confess that I subscribe to what Philippe de Schouteete, the respected constructor and conceptualiser of European integration, has said:

“Europe as a continent can not give up enlargement without denying its vocation, nor can it give up deepening without losing its dynamism. Like we have always needed to reconcile unity and diversity, we should reconcile widening and deepening.”

That is a worthy guiding principle for all those current and future generations of leaders who pursue to build a strong and united Europe.

I trust that this event, too, serves precisely that purpose. Thank you.

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