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European Commission

Štefan Füle

EU Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighbourhood Policy

Enlargement Package 2012:

Address to the Committee on Foreign Affairs (AFET)

European Parliament/ Brussels

10 October 2012

Mr Chairman, Honourable Members of Parliament, Ladies and Gentlemen.

At a time when the European Union faces major challenges and significant global uncertainty, enlargement policy continues to contribute to peace, security and prosperity on our continent. At a time when the European Union is reflecting on its future, it is important that it remains open to those on our continent that want to apply to become part of our common democratic project built on our shared values.

Croatia is on track to becoming the 28th member of the European Union on July 1st 2013; accession negotiations have started with Montenegro and Serbia has been granted Candidate Status. These are strong signals of the transformative power of our enlargement policy and they confirm its credibility. When enlargement countries deliver on their reforms, the European Union delivers on its commitments, also demonstrating its continued capacity as a global actor.

Honourable members,

The 2012 Strategy Paper identifies three key challenges:

1. Putting the rule of law at the centre of enlargement policy

Strengthening the rule of law and democratic governance is central to the enlargement process. It is an area where many countries have made progress in recent years, and where much more remains to be done. We need to build on the progress already achieved, taking into account the lessons learnt from previous enlargements. We have not only identified this as a challenge; putting the rule of law at the centre of enlargement policy is also the theme of the 2012 enlargement package.

This is not an abstract theme. It is a priority that turns enlargement into a more effective instrument, delivering improvements that have immediate impacts on core democratic institutions and on the daily lives of people. For countries aspiring to join that means that they must ensure that their judicial systems are

  • independent,

  • impartial,

  • accountable; and

  • functioning efficiently.

They have to have a strong framework to prevent corruption and they need to ensure that their law enforcement bodies have the tools to fight and sanction organised crime. In most enlargement countries increased efforts are also needed in public administration reform so that there is an increased focus on the needs of citizens and business. These are significant tasks. Enlargement countries have to start working early on reforms and establish solid track records of implementation well before negotiations are closed. The Commission is ready to help them with the hard daily work of planning, priority setting and implementation of reforms.

In some countries, there have been some positive results on decriminalising defamation. Nonetheless, we continue to have serious concerns about freedom of expression and independence of the media in a number of them. That is why we plan to build on the momentum of the 2011 "Speak Up!" conference with a follow-up conference in the first half of 2013, bringing together media and civil society stakeholders from the Western Balkans and Turkey. The results of this conference will be taken into account in our next progress report and followed up with respective governments. We will continue to prioritise freedom of expression and independence of the media in the accession process and we will continue to work closely with the European Parliament in this area.

2. Regional cooperation and reconciliation in the Western Balkans

Regional cooperation and reconciliation in the Western Balkans is a cornerstone of the stabilisation and association process. There is an urgent need to address a number of issues such as border disputes and other painful consequences of the recent conflict in the region. The inclusiveness of regional cooperation and progress in regional fora needs strengthening. It is also important that the accession process is not held up by bilateral issues. They need to be addressed as early as possible and in a good neighbourly spirit. The Commission urges parties to solve outstanding disputes using the best available means and in line with established principles. The Commission stands ready to help in the search for solutions.

3. Economic challenges

While the ongoing difficulties in the Eurozone and the global financial crisis have dominated the political agenda, they have only served to highlight how interdependent national economies are - within the European Union and beyond. This is where enlargement is clearly part of the solution as it is a powerful tool that drives political and economic reforms, consolidating economic and financial stability and growth. The enhanced economic, financial and political integration resulting from this within the European Union will also have to be taken into account in the enlargement process. Strengthening the enlargement countries' resilience to crisis is a matter of joint interest. We must continue to assist them with policy advice and financial assistance. We will use the Western Balkans Investment Framework to help prepare and support those investments most needed for boosting growth and jobs.

In response to the economic crisis, the European Union has already embarked on making far reaching changes to its economic governance. We will continue to inform and further associate enlargement countries to this process. This will boost the resilience of their economies and create favourable conditions for growth and jobs before they join.

As enlargement countries face up to challenges that I have described in fields ranging from the rule of law to the economy, the European Union has a shared interest in seeing reforms successfully implemented. In short, we want to maintain momentum for reforms and for enlargement. This will mean hard and permanent work and innovative approaches as we adapt to the rapidly changing architecture of the European Union.

Mr Chairman,

A Comprehensive Monitoring Report on Croatia is part of the 2012 Enlargement package adopted today. Croatia continues to make progress in adopting and implementing European Union legislation and is now completing its alignment with the acquis. But today's monitoring report also clearly identifies ten tasks on which Croatia has to deliver before accession. It is essential that Croatia sharpens its focus and completes its preparations on time so that this can be reflected in next spring's final monitoring report.

The opening of accession negotiations with Montenegro in June reflected its continued progress on key reforms. The inclusion of civil society representatives in the accession negotiating teams is commendable. The new approach to 'judiciary and fundamental rights' and 'justice, freedom and security' will see these chapters, 23 and 24, opened early in Montenegro's accession process, putting the focus on the rule of law. Montenegro will need to further develop its track record in this area especially in the fight against organised crime and corruption.

The Commission recommends for a fourth time that accession negotiations be opened with the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. We need to show that the European perspective for the country is real. We strongly believe in moving the accession process to the next stage to

  • keep the pace of reforms;

  • lessen the risk of any reversal in the process; and

  • strengthen inter-ethnic relations.

It is essential that good neighbourly relations are maintained and that a negotiated and mutually acceptable solution to the name issue is found under the auspices of the UN. A decision of the European Council to open accession negotiations would help create the conditions for finding a solution. On its side, the Commission is ready to present a negotiating framework which takes the need to solve the name issue into account at an early stage of the accession process.

Serbia continues on its way to sufficiently fulfilling the political criteria and the conditions of the Stabilisation and Association Process. We encourage Serbia to reinvigorate the momentum of its reforms and to continue to engage constructively in regional cooperation and building good relations with neighbouring countries. There needs to be a visible and sustainable improvement in relations between Serbia and Kosovo so that both can continue on their respective paths towards the European Union, while avoiding that either can block the other in these efforts. This process should gradually result in the full normalisation of relations between Serbia and Kosovo with the prospect of both being able to fully exercise their rights and fulfil their responsibilities within the European Union. Addressing the problems in northern Kosovo, while respecting the territorial integrity of Kosovo and the particular needs of the local population, will be an essential element of this process.

Steps leading to the normalisation of relations between Belgrade and Pristina should also be addressed in the context of the framework for the conduct of future accession negotiations with Serbia.

At this point, I would like to underline the importance of this comprehensive approach being pursued with determination by the parties with the full support of the EU, and the key importance of implementation of agreements reached to date by both sides, as well as to engage constructively on the full range of issues with the facilitation of the European Union.

Albania has made significant progress during the last year, notably on stronger cross-party agreement on the European Union reform process, as well as delivering on a number of substantial reforms in the areas covered by the Commission Opinion's Key Priorities. In view of this progress, the Commission recommends that the Council should grant Albania the status of candidate country subject to key judicial and public administration reform measures being completed, and the parliamentary rules of procedure being revised. The Commission will issue a report as soon as the necessary progress has been achieved. In its report, the Commission will also assess the further efforts of Albania in the fight against corruption and organised crime.

Kosovo. As part of today's enlargement package, the Commission has adopted a Communication on a Feasibility Study for a Stabilisation and Association Agreement with Kosovo. This study confirms that a Stabilisation and Association Agreement can be concluded between the European Union and Kosovo in a situation where European Union Member States maintain different views on status.

Kosovo has made considerable progress on its path towards the European Union. We therefore intend to propose negotiating directives for a Stabilisation and Association Agreement once Kosovo has made progress in meeting a number of short term priorities that we have identified. The Commission also calls on Kosovo to continue the implementation of all agreements reached between Belgrade and Pristina to date, as well as to engage constructively on the full range of issues with the facilitation of the European Union.

Regrettably Bosnia and Herzegovina has made limited progress towards meeting the political criteria and achieving more functional, coordinated and sustainable institutional structures. It is disappointing that commitments under the High Level Dialogue for the Accession Process have not been fulfilled or timelines met. We will continue to engage with the authorities of the country. The strong public support in Bosnia and Herzegovina for European Union membership needs to be matched by the political will to reach this goal.

Turkey is a key country for the European Union considering its dynamic economy, strategic location and important regional role. It is in our interest and Turkey's interest that accession negotiations regain their momentum. We believe it is important that work resumes on negotiating chapters, interrupted in recent years because of a lack of consensus amongst Member States. Turkey's active support for the positive agenda and its European perspective remains essential. We welcome the commitment of the Turkish government to swiftly present the fourth judicial reform package which should address all the core issues which are presently affecting the exercise of freedom of expression in practice.

The Commission also repeats its serious concerns about Turkey's freezing of relations with the Cyprus Presidency of the Council of the European Union and calls for full respect of the role of the Presidency of the Council. The Commission also stresses the sovereign rights of all European Union Member States to enter into bilateral agreements in accordance with the EU acquis and international law.

As regards the Cyprus issue, it is time to break the deadlock in the negotiations under the auspices of the United Nations and build on progress achieved to date in a positive climate. The Commission is ready play its part by providing strong political support and technical advice on issues within European Union competence.

Our common interests with Iceland are growing in a number of key areas including energy, climate change and the Arctic. Iceland continues to fully meet the political criteria and is well advanced in its preparations for European Union membership. Accession negotiations are progressing well but European Union accession remains an issue of lively public debate in Iceland. I am confident that the European Union will be able to present a package for the negotiations which will in due course allow the Icelandic people to make a fully informed decision.

Mr Chairman,

To conclude, enlargement is a strong credible policy with the rule of law at its centre, benefiting the citizens of enlargement countries and the European Union as a whole.

As the European Union moves in a new direction, deepening its integration, the enlargement process will require more efforts than ever before to reach out and engage partners. The support of this Committee and your intensified bilateral contacts with candidate countries will be crucial in that regard. I look forward to the adoption of Ms Koppa's report on enlargement in one of the forthcoming sessions. I also look forward to the European Parliament's response to each of the country reports.

Thank you.

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