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European Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighbourhood Policy
Press points on Enlargement Package
European Commission – Press Conference
Brussels, 9 November 2010
It is my honour to present to you today the first Enlargement Package of this European Commission.
1. Let me start by explaining why I believe that we still need a strong and credible Enlargement policy
In this climate of economic uncertainty, people may ask "why does enlargement matter?" Enlargement matters because it reinforces peace and stability in Europe. Enlargement makes the EU a safer place, with its focus on consolidating the rule of law, while promoting democracy and fundamental freedoms across the aspirant countries, who are our closest neighbours.
Enlargement makes us stronger with over 500 million citizens living in the European Union. It makes us better equipped to promote our values and interests. Enlargement enables us to assume our role as a global player.
Furthermore Enlargement is clearly in our own interests. It enables the EU to achieve its own economic and political objectives. This is particularly true in areas such as internal market, energy, transport, environmental protection and efforts to limit climate change. Although it is easy to forget in the present context, enlargement has been successful in these areas in the past and can be a success in the future.
Today, the Enlargement package provides you with an overview of the progress made by nine countries. Nine countries who not only share our values, but who wish to actively promote them by joining the European Union. We should be proud of that fact. It is in our own interest to provide them with a framework to support their transformative efforts to reach our political and economic standards. Indeed, enlargement is the best policy to project our values into this region.
2. What's new in this year's Enlargement package?
This is the first Enlargement package to be prepared after the Lisbon Treaty. With the Lisbon Treaty in force, we removed the institutional bottlenecks in our decision-making, facilitating our ambition to remain a relevant global player. The second effect is that we can now combine forces with HR/VP Catherine Ashton in the enlargement area, while making full use of the entire CSFP and community toolbox to effectively address the key issues of the region.
Second, this package contains the first progress report on Iceland.
(As you may recall, the Commission's positive recommendation regarding Iceland's application to the EU was accepted by our member States, leading to the opening of accession negotiations in July.)
Third, today we adopted two Opinions, on Albania and Montenegro.
Fourth, we welcome Serbia's further step on its European path by beginning the analysis of its membership application. Serbia will soon receive our questionnaire.
Finally, the central theme of this year's package is "credibility".
Let me devote the third part of my presentation to this topic.
To continue to be successful, the EU's enlargement policy must continue to be credible. Credibility is a two-way street.
a) 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.
b) For the candidate and potential candidate countries, credibility is about their tangible European perspective. We have to provide them with a framework in which they can achieve real change, real reform and real results.
This framework is defined by the Member States through the Copenhagen criteria of 1993 and the 2006 renewed consensus on enlargement. But what does this mean in practice?
The 'rules of the game' remain the same. Aspirant countries must develop the capacity to assume fully the obligations of membership by satisfying the political and economic conditions required. That is non-negotiable.
However, the application of these rules reflects the lessons learnt in previous years:
The Commission's Opinions on applications for membership are based on a thorough analysis. We will only recommend the opening of accession negotiations, once a country has achieved a satisfactory degree of compliance with the membership criteria.
As soon as negotiations start, both the opening and the closing of each of the 35 chapters are based on clear benchmarks, whenever necessary. These benchmarks are approved by the Member States on the basis of consensus.
The EU expects a convincing track record in the fulfilment of these benchmarks, in particular regarding judiciary and fundamental rights. Accession negotiations do not simply involve ticking boxes about legislative approximation. Countries must build a credible track record of reform and implementation, in particular in the area of rule of law.
Furthermore, we closely monitor the implementation of commitments once chapters are provisionally closed through monitoring tables, which are discussed with the Member States.
Finally, we undertake an analysis of the EU's absorption capacity in key sectors.
During the whole process, the Commission provides advice and support on how to achieve the next step in the accession process. Political guidance and rigorous conditionality are two sides of the same coin. This is the key for sustaining credibility and will form a leitmotif of my term as Commissioner for Enlargement.
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.
Being 100% prepared will help to attain another vital element for the enlargement process: The support of the citizens in both the EU and the applicant countries.
Let me now turn to each country individually.
First Albania and Montenegro, and our Opinions
In its Opinions adopted today the Commission recommends "that accession negotiations should be opened with Montenegro and Albania once these countries have achieved the necessary degree of compliance with the membership criteria set out by the 1993 Copenhagen European Council. In particular, Montenegro and Albania need to meet the specific key priorities set out in each Opinion.
For Albania the Opinion concluded that "negotiations for accession to the European Union should be opened once the country has achieved the necessary degree of compliance with the membership criteria, and in particular the Copenhagen political criteria requiring the stability of institutions guaranteeing notably democracy and the rule of law." We urge Albania to make further efforts to build on the progress to date.
For Montenegro the Commission considers that "negotiations for accession to the European Union should be opened once the country has achieved the necessary degree of compliance with the membership criteria and in particular the Copenhagen political criteria requiring the stability of institutions guaranteeing notably the rule of law." The Commission recommends "that the Council grants the status of candidate country to Montenegro."
"The Commission's progress report on both countries in the 2011 enlargement package will focus in particular on the implementation of the key priorities which need to be addressed with a view to the opening of accession negotiations."
Let me now turn to current Candidate Countries:
With Croatia, accession negotiations have reached the final phase. "The Commission considers that negotiations should be concluded once Croatia has met outstanding closing benchmarks, in particular in the field of judiciary and fundamental rights, including fight against corruption, thus removing the need for the EU to consider a cooperation and verification mechanism after accession." The Commission will assess the progress in the relevant chapter in the first quarter of 2011.
Turkey has continued its political reform process, in particular through the reform of its Constitution. But no one can be satisfied with the current 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 and makes progress towards normalisation of bilateral relations with the Republic of Cyprus. In the absence of progress, the Commission recommends that the EU maintains its measures from 2006, which will have a continuous effect on overall progress in the negotiations."
With Iceland, "the accession process … has been launched … Accession negotiations were opened in July 2010." The screening of Iceland's legislation is about to start. "Substantial efforts are needed to ensure that citizens in Iceland are properly informed about what EU membership entails."
As far as former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia is concerned, "it continues to sufficiently fulfil the political criteria. … The Commission reiterates its recommendation that negotiations for accession to the European Union should be opened." However, an unanimous decision of Member States is required for the negotiations to start. A "negotiated and mutually accepted solution to the name issue under the auspices of the UN is essential."
And now, our three potential candidates:
Serbia. Two weeks ago, the Council invited the Commission to submit its Opinion on Serbia. Commission has started to fulfil this task and intends to present its Opinion in the second part of 2011. "Serbia is well placed to fulfil the requirements under Stabilisation and Association Agreement … and … has continued its cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia." This cooperation remains "an essential condition for membership of the EU".
While the Commission has concluded that "Serbia has taken important steps towards reconciliation in the region", we also urge "Serbia to demonstrate a more constructive attitude towards Kosovo's participation in regional trade and cooperation."
Bosnia and Herzegovina. Following the October general elections, "Bosnia and Herzegovina needs to form a government committed to the country's EU future and to speed up relevant reforms." In particular Bosnia and Herzegovina needs "to align its Constitution with the European Convention of Human Rights and to improve 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, making progress towards meeting the objectives and conditions which have been set for the closure of the Office of the High Representative remains essential."
And finally, Kosovo – "the decentralisation process in Kosovo has advanced significantly and cooperation with EULEX has increased. However, major (political) challenges remain. The authorities need to ensure a constructive approach towards Kosovo participation in regional cooperation fora." Subject to continued implementation of Action Plan on reintegration of returnees, "Commission is committed to launch a visa liberalisation dialogue shortly. The commission is (also) assisting Kosovo to put into place the conditions needed for a possible trade agreement with the EU. … The Commission will propose the opening to Kosovo's participation in relevant Union programmes, such as Europe for Citizens and Culture."