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SPEECH/09/492

Olli Rehn

EU Commissioner for Enlargement

Lessons from EU enlargement for its future foreign policy

Figures and graphics available in PDF and WORD PROCESSED


European Policy Centre

Brussels, 22 October 2009

Chairman, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

First of all, let me thank the organisers of this policy dialogue. I could not have thought of better timing for discussing the progress and prospects of EU enlargement.

That is not only because the Commission's annual enlargement package was presented last week. Even more so, it is because the Lisbon Treaty will – let's assume so – enter into force soon and enhance the EU's role in foreign policy. This is the right time to discuss a key main tool of the common foreign and security policy, EU enlargement.

Let me first ask you a question of conscience: Would you elect somebody who has a messy backyard at home to your city council?

Following the same logic, the EU’s credibility as a global actor stands or falls by our ability to shape our very own neighbourhood.

It is in our neighbourhood where we have achieved the most remarkable progress by using the EU´s transformative power to change the ten post communist new member states for the better.

Besides, it was in our neighbourhood, in the Balkans in the 1990s, where through painful experiences the Union's common foreign and security policy was born. Enlargement policy in the past years has been the main instrument of pursuing stabilisation in the region.

Let me give you a case of empirical evidence of this.

I just spent again two days in Sarajevo together with Sweden's Foreign Minister Carl Bildt and US Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg and our teams. We had the second meeting in two weeks with the leaders of the country, trying to overcome the political stalemate that has dragged this country backwards over the past year.

We want Bosnia and Herzegovina to be a credible applicant for EU and NATO membership. For this to happen, it needs to stand on its own feet and to govern itself effectively, as a functional and sovereign state.

You might ask: Why these EU-US activities in Sarajevo? Are we entitled to do so in the first place? Is it not an interference into the internal affairs of the country to suggest elements for its constitutional reform?

My answer is clear: We are doing this in order to maintain and enhance stability in the country and thus in the region. Providing peace and stability is, after all, the thing – maybe the most important thing – that the EU has done throughout its history, and quite successfully.

What about "interference" into internal affairs?

Any exercise of EU enlargement is based on the applicants' obligation to conduct thorough reforms, adopt thousands of pages of EU legislation and align with the EU's foreign policy.

Yes, for the rulers who drew the Westphalian order, or even for those who signed the Treaty of Versailles, this exercise would for sure seem the most brutal interference into the domestic affairs of sovereign states.

Fortunately, the world has changed since the times of Westphalia and Versailles. For the European states of our time, as Robert Cooper has said, sovereignty means a seat at the table. By pooling their sovereignties the EU member states can increasingly regard their Union as a power multiplier.

Let me, i n this context, get back to this year's enlargement package. I want to elaborate on two cross-cutting dimensions of it.

First, bilateral issues. Some may say that this is nothing new in the history of EU enlargement. There have always been issues like cross-border pollution or a nuclear power plant in the vicinity of a member state.

But in the Western Balkans, we are talking about the so-called “hard stuff” of bilateral foreign policy – open border problems, questioning neighbours´ statehood, identity, history, nationality or religion.

Anyone with at least some knowledge of the history of this part of Europe knows what I am talking about. A couple of days ago, the border demarcation agreement between Kosovo and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia was signed and ratified, making the latter the very first country in the region with no open border questions. Croatia and Montenegro seem also to have done good efforts to solve their border issue in Prevlaka. But what about the others?

In our strategy document, we state that bilateral issues should not hold up the accession process. The parties involved must try to find solutions in good neighbourly spirit and bearing in mind the overall EU interests.

Secondly, the rule of law. When the huge transformation, after the collapse of Soviet Union and the Eastern bloc started, the importance of the rule of law was sometimes underestimated. Some leaders of the first wave of radical reforms have acknowledged this. While in the early 1990s their first and often the only commandment was: "Privatize!", they now underline that the most important thing was actually to put in place a modern constitution, to reform the judicial system, including the courts, and to build credible law enforcement authorities.

Why is this? Because that is how the people's trust in their own statehood is created and consolidated. Because that is how the confidence of foreign investors will be won. Because that is how the countries grow to fulfil the European standards. And that is why the Commission focuses more and more on the rule of law in the candidate countries and potential candidates.

This relates to the themes of the panel which will after my talk: In this year's enlargement package, we recommend to open accession negotiations with the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. This was only possible since the country's leadership finally decided to prioritize EU-related reforms, not least strengthening the rule of law. I trust that the Government in Skopje will take the Commission's recommendation as a very strong encouragement to finally settle the bilateral name issue.

Croatia is probably closest of becoming a new member state. Croatia is approaching the finishing line, but her reform efforts must be intensified. And yes, the reform of the judiciary and the fight against corruption and organised crime figure most prominently among them.

While thinking of future enlargement, at least in the Balkans region, my assumption is that its success will depend on how all the parties involved work in these two sectors – bilateral problems and the rule of law.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Let me conclude with some words on the impact of the Lisbon Treaty on EU enlargement and foreign policy.

For the European public, the most visible and important novelty of the Lisbon Treaty is going to be the new instruments for conducting the EU's external relations. Therefore, it is important that the European External Action Service is operational right from the start, even if it would not yet have taken its final shape. We need to be pragmatic and look for solutions that respect the original objective of a genuinely European foreign service at the service of European values and interests.

So far, the post-Lisbon debate has concentrated rather on the speculation with names than on a substantive discussions on the best possible institutional configuration and job descriptions.

Let me therefore provide some reflections on the prospective configuration of the foreign policy reforms provided by the Lisbon Treaty, based on my five years' experience as Enlargement Commissioner.

As enlargement policy is one of the most powerful tools of the EU's foreign policy, it is a natural component of the new foreign policy configuration under the Lisbon Treaty. However, enlargement is not classical foreign policy in the strict sense of the word. It is essentially about preparation for EU accession and therefore, it has a strong link with internal policies of the EU.

Furthermore, the Treaty places specific responsibilities on the Commission in the enlargement process, such as preparing an opinion on the application for membership.

It is thus reasonable to assume that DG Enlargement will not become a part of the External Action Service. However, the External Action Service should have certain responsibilities in the field of common foreign and security policy also for both the Western Balkans and Turkey.

This is a chance for us. For instance, we should be better to capitalise on our relationship with Turkey to advance our common goals in foreign policy. Turkey is a key partner for the EU in advancing peace in the Middle East, stability in Southern Caucasus, security in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and a reliable supply of energy for both the EU and Turkey.

Secondly, we must get the institutional configuration right to serve the common European interest, not some narrow institutional interest.

I have studied carefully the drafts prepared so far by the Presidency with the Member States and Commission, as well as by the European Parliament whose Brok report is an important input in this debate.

Overall, I trace a convergence of views. I trust that we can avoid old-school turf wars inside the Union and confusion outside. We must not see this as a zero-sum game, but care for the overall European interest.

That is why I would not over-emphasise "equidistance" of External Action Service from the Council and the Commission, as if it were a matter of some mathematical median.

Instead, we must strive for maximal synergy by effectively pooling our respective political leverages and using to the full the wide range of instuments of our disposal.

The EEAS should be made the engine of our "smart power", by which I refer to a foreign policy driven by diplomacy and using our substantial toolbox of legal, political, economic, cultural and military instruments.

It is a basic fact that foreign policy of the European Union is done jointly with the Member States. The Treaty retains the predominantly intergovernmental nature of foreign policy, hich underlines the importance of the capitals and foreign services of all Member States.

Therefore, steering of policy-making in the Council and doing it with all member states is a major challenge for the new High Representative/Vice President, which will require a strategic mind, persuasive and managerial skills and a capacity to build compromises.

At the same time, the High Representative/Vice-President will be more accountable to the European Parliament than the current Secretary General/High Representative. I am sure that the European Parliament will continue to be a responsible and reliable partner in the CSFP.

Thirdly, I agree with my colleague Benita Ferrero-Waldner that personal chemistry between the three post-Lisbon leaders is essential.

I know it by my personal football experience that a football team can not have three centre-forwards if it wants to win. There must be a meaningful division of labour that provides with insightful leadership, individual excellence and excellent teamwork. To score, we need one or two centre-forwards, but also an astute playmaker and a smooth winger.

All in all, enlargement and foreign policy are at the service of European citizens. This is why we must always keep in mind what best serves the common interest of the European Union, its member states and in particular its citizens. That's the foundation for our foreign policy reforms.


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