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Štefan Füle

European Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighbourhood Policy

Presentation of Enlargement Package

European Parliament – Foreign Affairs Committee (AFET)

Brussels, 9 November 2010

Mr Chairman,

Honourable Members of Parliament,

It is a particular pleasure to be here today to present the 2010 Enlargement Package. Let me first share with you some general considerations on key challenges for the accession process.

Second, I will touch upon the two Opinions on Montenegro and Albania.

Third, I will present the main findings on the other candidate and potential candidate countries.

The package marks the end of a year which has seen some significant achievements in the enlargement countries. It also demonstrates that we build on our experience every year, to make the enlargement process more effective.

The foundations of this process remain in place:

  • full respect for the Copenhagen criteria and the 2006 renewed consensus,

  • full respect for the commitments that we - the European Union - have made

  • and full respect for the conditionality that applies to the candidate countries.

This is the tried and tested methodology. It brought many of the countries represented here today into the European Union. However, there is always scope for refinement and adjustment to rapidly evolving realities.

The rules of the game remain the same. Their application however reflects the lessons learnt during the last enlargement rounds:

  • We now have both opening and closing benchmarks approved by the Member States on the basis of consensus.

  • We expect a convincing track record in the fulfilment of the benchmarks, in particular as regards judiciary and fundamental rights.

  • We monitor closely the implementation of commitments once chapters are provisionally closed through monitoring tables which are discussed with the Member States.

  • And we undertake analysis of the absorption capacity in key sectors.

When I spoke to you during my appointment hearing, I stressed the importance of giving the enlargement countries as much political guidance and support as possible.

Let me be clear, political guidance and rigorous conditionality are two sides of the same coin. We have ensured that the process is both supportive of the countries efforts to meet the criteria and rigorous in its verification that the criteria have been met. This is the key to sustain credibility and will form a leitmotif of my term as Commissioner for Enlargement.

Mr Chairman, before turning to the Opinions on Albania and Montenegro, I would like to say something about the overall context of enlargement and the focus of the strategy paper.

The economic crisis and its aftermath are at the forefront of everyone's attention. At a time like this, people may ask "Why does enlargement matter?"

Enlargement matters because it reinforces peace and stability in Europe. It is in the EU's strategic interest to take the enlargement process forward on the basis of the agreed principles and conditions and the renewed consensus on enlargement.

The enlargement process helps us to better achieve our own policy objectives in a number of areas that are key to economic recovery and sustainable growth. These include dealing with the economic crisis, promoting the objectives of the 2020 reform agenda, and making the EU a safer place. It is about pulling our weight on the world stage.

Against the background of the global economic recession, Intensifying economic dialogue and closer economic integration with the enlargement countries, and indeed also our other neighbouring countries, will enable us to focus together on putting the crisis behind us, improving competitiveness and creating jobs.

The enlargement policy thus enables the EU to meet the challenges of a shifting, multi-polar world, in which we need to continue projecting our values and interests- beyond our borders. A Union that builds cooperation between former rivals, while upholding the highest standards of human rights, will maintain the magnetic soft power needed to shape the world around it.

Our enlargement policy shows how we can turn serious challenges on our doorstep into opportunities: opportunities for a more secure and prosperous Europe.

Over the last year we have seen some notable progress across the enlargement countries towards the European Union: from visa liberalisation to constitutional reform, from implementing the SAA to opening accession negotiations. This progress demonstrates that enlargement is an effective policy.

To continue to be successful, the EU's enlargement policy must continue to be credible. Credibility is a two-way street. For Member States, credibility of the enlargement process means rigorous conditionality towards the applicants. It means that a candidate country is only recommended to join the EU once it is fully prepared.

For the candidate and potential candidate countries, credibility is about their tangible European perspective. We shall be providing them with a framework in which they can achieve real change, real reform and real results.

For the countries concerned, accession negotiations do not simply involve ticking boxes about legislative approximation. Countries must build a track record of credible reform and implementation.

As a consequence, we make sure that no country will join the European Union before being 100% ready to do so. Equally, we must make sure that the European Union is 100% ready before it enlarges to include new countries.

The entry into force of the Lisbon treaty is a vital element in the EU's capacity to enlarge. By removing the institutional bottleneck, it ensures that the EU can pursue its enlargement agenda, while maintaining the momentum of European integration.

100 % preparedness will help to attain another vital element for the enlargement process: The support of the citizens in both the EU and the applicant countries. Preparing for enlargement brings positive results not only for the political establishment, but also for the citizens.

The 2010 strategy highlights as priorities the reform of public administration and the judiciary, as well as the fight against organised crime and corruption. Only well established track records in these areas can guarantee that the reforms undertaken will bring the expected changes and benefits to society.

It will also remove the need for the European Union to consider a cooperation and verification mechanism after accession.

But there are of course other areas that need full attention. Let me name just a few:

a) Freedom of expression and of the media remains a concern in most enlargement countries. Progress in this area is essential and will be closely monitored by the Commission.

b) Bilateral issues need to be solved by the parties concerned, in a good neighbourly spirit and taking overall EU interests into account. These issues should not hold up the accession process. The time has come for the region to overcome the legacy of the conflicts of the past, building on recent positive momentum regarding reconciliation.

c) Regional cooperation is an essential element of the Stabilisation and Association process. It should not be undermined by divergences over Kosovo.

d) Visa liberalisation - substantial progress has been made on this issue. The visa obligation for citizens from the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia was lifted.

It was agreed yesterday that visa requirements will also be lifted for Bosnia and Herzegovina and Albania. With Kosovo, we will launch the visa liberalisation dialogue shortly. Further efforts are needed to ensure the continuous implementation of the set conditions by countries even after visa liberalisation.

Mr Chairman, honourable members, as I have said the Commission has just adopted the Opinions on Albania and Montenegro.

The Commission recommends that accession negotiations should be opened with Montenegro and Albania, once these countries have achieved a satisfactory degree of compliance with the membership criteria, and in particular meet a number of key priorities as set out in the Opinions.

We have made a very thorough analysis, assessing each country on the basis of the own merits principle and concluded that there is a key difference between the two countries.

The fulfilment of the Copenhagen political criteria is decisive for the recommendation whether to open accession negotiations. While both countries have made progress, there are still outstanding issues that need to be addressed before opening of accession negotiations can be envisaged, in particular regarding the rule of law.

The Opinion on Montenegro recognises the progress made in the political criteria field, notably in establishing a legal and institutional framework in line with European standards. The Parliament functions normally and there is constructive dialogue between political parties. The country plays a positive regional role and inter-ethnic relations are good.

As recognition of its achievements, we recommend the status of candidate country for Montenegro. This reflects our position that progress should yield tangible results on the road towards accession

Albania has also made progress in the political criteria field. The country likewise plays a positive role in regional relations. However, its positive record in a number of areas has been hampered by the ongoing political stalemate that puts into question the stability of its institutions. This situation has led to serious problems regarding the proper functioning of Parliament and has blocked the adoption of key reforms. This is a serious obstacle to the fulfilment of the Copenhagen political criteria.

Not proposing the candidate status for Albania is consistent with our approach on the political stalemate so far. For more than a year, the European Union – and I commend the continued efforts of the European Parliament in this regard - has passed clear messages to all political parties to show responsibility and to find a solution to the stalemate.

In line with our approach based on credibility, we define precise priorities in the Opinions, providing each country with clear guidance of what needs to be done. We will assess progress made on the key priorities in the 2011 enlargement package. In line with the own merits principle, each country determines the pace of its progress on the EU path.

Mr Chairman, if I may now turn to the other enlargement countries.

  • With Croatia, accession negotiations have reached the final phase. Let me underline that full cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia remains a requirement for Croatia's progress throughout the accession process, in line with the Negotiating Framework.

The Commission considers that negotiations should be concluded once Croatia has met all outstanding closing benchmarks, in particular in the field of judiciary and fundamental rights. Credible track records of implementation and enforcement are essential. This will remove the need for the EU to consider a cooperation and verification mechanism after accession.

We will take stock of the progress in the relevant Chapter 23 in the first quarter of 2011.

The quality and credibility of the results of the accession process with Croatia are essential for the whole region.

  • Turkey has continued its political reform process, in particular through the reform of its constitution. Further results are needed regarding fundamental rights, the 'democratic opening' and the involvement of all stakeholders in the reform process. In particular, freedom of expression needs to be ensured in practice.

By advancing in the fulfilment of benchmarks, as well as the requirements specified in the Negotiating Framework, Turkey will be able to accelerate the pace of negotiations. It is now urgent that Turkey fulfils its obligation of full non-discriminatory implementation of the Additional Protocol to the Association Agreement.

In the absence of progress on this issue, the Commission recommends that the EU maintains its measures from 2006. This will have a continuous effect on the overall progress of the negotiations.

As regards the Cyprus issue, the leaders of the Greek Cypriot and of the Turkish Cypriot communities are continuing negotiations on a comprehensive settlement under the auspices of the United Nations. I call on both leaders to strengthen their efforts to bring the settlement talks to a successful conclusion as soon as possible. We reiterate our call on Turkey to contribute in concrete terms to a comprehensive settlement of the Cyprus issue.

  • The accession process with Iceland has been launched. Accession negotiations were opened in July 2010. The screening of Iceland's legislation is about to start. First chapters could be opened before the summer break next year. Iceland will need to address existing obligations, such as those identified by the EFTA Surveillance Authority (ESA) under the EEA Agreement. Substantial efforts are needed to ensure that the citizens in Iceland are properly informed about what EU membership entails.

  • The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia continues to sufficiently fulfil the political criteria. Further progress has been made in key reform areas, although at an uneven pace. Efforts are still needed in particular as regards the judiciary and public administration reforms.

The Commission reiterates its recommendation that negotiations for accession to the European Union should be opened with the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. As a unanimous decision of Member States is required for the negotiations to start, a negotiated and mutually accepted solution to the name issue is essential.

  • In October 2010, the Council invited the Commission to submit its Opinion on Serbia. The country has continued to implement its political reform agenda and to build a track record in implementing the Interim Agreement. Additional efforts are required regarding judicial and public administration reform, as well as the fight against organised crime and corruption.

Serbia has continued its cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. However, the two remaining ICTY fugitives are still at large. Full cooperation with the Tribunal remains an international obligation.

Serbia needs to demonstrate a constructive attitude towards Kosovo’s participation in regional trade and cooperation. Cooperation needs to be strengthened with the EULEX rule of law mission with respect to the north of Kosovo.

  • Following the October general elections, Bosnia and Herzegovina urgently needs to speed up reforms. In particular Bosnia and Herzegovina needs to align its Constitution with the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR) and to improve the efficiency and functioning of its institutions. The country must be in a position to adopt, implement and enforce the laws and rules of the EU.

Regarding international obligations, it remains essential for Bosnia-Herzegovina to make progress towards meeting the objectives and conditions which have been set for the closure of the Office of the High Representative (OHR).

  • Following the UN General Assembly Resolution, the EU will facilitate a dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina to promote cooperation, to achieve progress on the path to the EU and to improve the lives of people. This is an important opportunity, not just for bilateral relations but for the region and regional co-operation as a whole.

In Kosovo, the decentralisation process has advanced significantly. Cooperation with EULEX has increased. However, major challenges remain as regards the rule of law, including public administration and the judiciary. More needs to be done to tackle corruption, organised crime and money-laundering.

Dialogue and reconciliation between communities and the protection and integration of minorities, particularly the Kosovo Serbs, are still areas of concern. The situation concerning the north of Kosovo remains difficult

The authorities need to ensure a constructive approach towards Kosovo's participation in regional cooperation fora, in order to keep pace with regional developments.

Mr Chairman, honourable members of Parliament:

To conclude, the current enlargement process offers great potential to deal with the global challenges we face. To tap the full potential, we need to ensure credibility and continuity of this process. We cannot afford to loose momentum.

These are the key messages of the 2010 enlargement package. Before I commend it to you, I would like to say a few words about our work together.

The EU's commitment to the enlargement process reflects my own conviction, the member states' conviction, and I am confident to say, the conviction of this house that enlargement is in our mutual interest.

In February, when I appeared before you at my public hearing I promised that I would maintain the closest possible contacts with you.

I hope that this has been as useful for you as it has been beneficial for me. Within this committee there is a huge experience in and understanding of the enlargement process.

Mr Chairman, I am sure that we will continue to work very closely together for the benefit both of the European Union and of those countries who wish to take their place as Members States of the Union.

Over the last year, we have witnessed the efforts the enlargement countries are making - even in these difficult times. There has been real progress, but the remaining challenges are equally real. The countries deserve our full support - they will get mine and I am sure they will get yours too.

Thank you.

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