European Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighbourhood Policy
Address at the Foreign Affairs Committee
House of Commons
London, 13 January 2011
Honourable Members of Parliament,
As a former Ambassador to this country it is a particular pleasure to speak before you today.
First, I will share some general considerations the importance of enlargement for the European Union and the United Kingdom.
Second, I will identify the elements make enlargement an effective and credible policy.
Third, I will outline the key challenges for 2011.
1. The Importance of Enlargement
I believe that enlargement is very important for the European Union and for the United Kingdom.
In December, the Council issued extensive conclusions on EU enlargement. These welcomed the Commission's 2010 enlargement package and reaffirmed the "strong support of the European union for taking the enlargement process forward".
A strong and credible enlargement policy enables the EU to achieve its own economic and political objectives.
These objectives go beyond ensuring peace and stability but also extend into areas such as internal market, energy, transport, environmental protection and climate change.
Enlargement has been successful in the past and can be a success in the future, making the EU not only bigger, but politically and economically stronger.
We should bear in mind what we stand to gain. The UK is one of the economic powerhouses of the European Union and one of its most open economies.
The last enlargement opened up markets for UK firms and investors and increased their importance. Poland now takes as many exports from the UK as China does.
The expanded European Union and its internal market mean that over 3 million jobs in the UK are linked directly or indirectly to the export of goods and services to the EU.
As the EU expands so do the opportunities for UK traders, investors, consumers, tourists and property owners abroad.
The current phase of enlargement aims to reinforce peace and stability in Europe, particularly in the Balkans. Accordingly, 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.
In the past, the United Kingdom has made significant military contributions to bring peace and stability in the region. Through the enlargement process we hope to ensure that such interventions will not be needed again.
2. The Foundations of an effective policy
Over the past year, we have witnessed notable progress across the nine enlargement countries: from visa liberalisation to constitutional reform, from implementing the SAA to opening accession negotiations. This progress demonstrates that enlargement is a credible and effective policy.
A central theme for this year's package is credibility. We must remember that credibility is a two-way street:
For Member States, credibility means applying rigorous conditionality towards the applicants, but also providing them with a tangible European perspective as they fulfil the relevant conditions. Accordingly, membership will only be recommended once a candidate country is fully prepared.
For candidate countries and potential candidates, credibility is built through a track record of credible reform and implementation. We have to provide them with a framework to support their transformative efforts to achieve real change with real reform and real results.
Being fully prepared will help to attain another vital element for the enlargement process: the support of the citizens in the applicant countries and in the Member States.
We must demonstrate to the citizens you represent the benefits that the enlargement process brings to them.
3. Challenges for 2011
In its 2010 Enlargement strategy, the Commission set out the main challenges for the EU enlargement process in 2011. I discussed these extensively with European Union Foreign Ministers in Brussels in December at the General Affairs Council.
The Commission has highlighted 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 – including a tangible European perspective.
It will also remove the need for the European Union to consider adopting cooperation and verification mechanisms after accession.
But of course there are other areas that need our full attention.
Let me name just a few:
a) Freedom of expression and of the media remains a concern in most enlargement countries.
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.
c) Regional cooperation is an essential element of the Stabilisation and Association process. It should not be undermined by divergences over Kosovo. We hope that the Kosovo Serbia dialogue will start soon. This is important for the everyday lives of people and will contribute to regional cooperation.
The global economic crisis continues to weigh heavily on the enlargement countries. The EU, together with the International Financial Institutions, has helped to alleviate the impact of the crisis.
Let me now turn to the countries that may be of particular interest to you.
Turkey could accelerate the pace of negotiations, by advancing in the fulfilment of benchmarks, as well as the requirements specified in the Negotiating Framework. 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 has recommended that the EU maintains its measures from 2006. This will have a continuous effect on the overall progress of the negotiations.
For the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia a negotiated and mutually accepted solution to the name issue is essential. Once this is in place we believe that the path will be clear to open accession negotiations.
Bosnia and Herzegovina urgently needs to speed up reforms. Aligning the constitution with international standards is essential. So too is progress towards meeting the objectives and conditions which have been set for the closure of the Office of the High Representative (OHR).
With regard to Kosovo and Serbia, the main challenge is how to ensure progress in the dialogue. The situation will be clearer after the formation of the government in Kosovo. In the very near future, the Commission will continue work on practical measures including a proposal to extend EU programmes to Kosovo in line with the December Council conclusions.
Mr Chairman, before I conclude, I would like to say a few words about the European Union's neighbourhood policy and some of the challenges we are addressing that may be of particular interest to this committee.
In the broader neighbourhood of the EU, several challenges are on the horizon. Let me touch briefly only on Ukraine, Belarus and Georgia.
In Ukraine, there is an acute need to ensure progress in respect for human rights, and democratic principles. The EU is concerned that some of the recent decisions of Ukrainian law enforcement institutions convey the impression of selectively targeting members of the former government of Yulia Tymoshenko, i.e. representatives of the current opposition. If substantiated, such practices would not be in line with the values to which Ukraine and the EU have committed themselves.
This in turn would create obstacles for our common efforts to promote the Ukraine's political association and economic integration with the EU. Earlier this week on my visit to Kiev, I clearly expressed these concerns to my interlocutors.
Furthermore, we need to prevent the deterioration of the business and investment climate in Ukraine, including the fight against corruption. The EU is currently tackling some specific cases of concern, also for UK companies.
As regards Belarus, we have been shocked by the events following the Presidential elections of 19 December. The EU unequivocally condemned the violent and unacceptable repression of the opposition and civil society and called for the immediate release of all those detained on political grounds.
Within the EU, we are now reflecting on our policy towards Belarus. Our relations with this country are at stake. More generally, the credibility of the Eastern Partnership is at stake, given that stronger relations between the EU and our Eastern Partners are conditional upon respect of shared values in the fields of democracy and human rights.
In our reaction, we must find the right combination of actions that target the regime and other measures that support civil society and our long-term relations with the population. The Commission will further increase support for civil society. In my view, we should also move forward on the issue of visa facilitation for certain strata of society, given that closer and more frequent exchanges between the people of Belarus and those of the EU are in our own long- term interest.
With Georgia, we made good progress in negotiations of an Association Agreement since July. If Georgia meets the necessary conditions, these negotiations will also include a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area which, ultimately, implies the gradual opening of the EU’s Internal Market to Georgia.
The EU fully supports Georgia’s territorial integrity and continues to be actively engaged in the conflict resolutions efforts through all instruments at its disposal. These include: the Geneva discussions; the EU Monitoring Mission, and assistance to Internally Displaced People. We are glad to note that the significant post-conflict assistance package of up to EUR 500 million, for the years 2008 to 2010, has been successfully implemented. In addition to supporting Internally Displaced People, this package also includes support for Georgia’s macro-economic stability.
Last July, the EU launched a Strategic Review to strengthen its European Neighbourhood Policy. We have already completed a very wide consultation process. Consultations so far indicate that all our partners want stronger relations with the EU, based on high-level political dialogue. All of them look forward to deeper economic integration based on the approximation of legislation and regulatory convergence, easier mobility, and increased financial co-operation.
From these consultations, there emerged a general need for clearer conditionality and more rigorous differentiation. We should be more forceful in underlining shared values, good governance and the need for political reform. We should be clear about the measures we expect our partners to undertake. We should have the necessary resources and political commitment to reward our partners accordingly.
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 the credibility and continuity of this process. We cannot afford to lose momentum.
This is the key message of the 2010 enlargement package. It is an important message for the UK. The UK exports over €11 billion a year to the countries of the last enlargement. Further expansion of the European Union will bring further benefits.
Mr Chairman, within this committee there is a huge experience in - and understanding of - the enlargement process. 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.