European Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighbourhood Policy
Remarks in the European Parliament debate on Enlargement
European Parliament Plenary debate on the Report of MEP Maria-Eleni Koppa "Enlargement: policies, criteria and EU strategic interests".
Strasbourg, 21 November 2012
Mr Chairman, Honourable Members of Parliament, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I would like to thank the Parliament, and in particular the rapporteur, Madame Koppa for her excellent report on Enlargement.
I welcome the report's acknowledgement that enlargement is a successful policy of the Union and has to remain in the European Union toolbox.
The report is largely in line with and supportive of the Commission's approach, in particular on the balance between conditionality/integration capacity on the one hand and the importance of maintaining the momentum of the enlargement process on the other. I am pleased with the emphasis in the report on
• the necessary link between IPA objectives and the requirements of the accession criteria;
• greater involvement of civil society and social partners in the accession process; and
• on associating the enlargement countries to the Europe 2020 goals.
This is all in line with the Commission policy as reflected in this year's enlargement strategy communication.
Let me turn now to some of the issues raised in the report, starting with methodology. As you know, the Commission is actively engaged in the process of constantly improving the enlargement methodology. With the new approach on chapters 23 and 24, we have taken lessons learnt from previous enlargements seriously and proposed a concrete way to take them into account for the future. The two chapters will now be opened as early as possible and should be amongst the last ones to be closed. This will allow the accession countries sufficient time to develop solid and sustainable track records.
We agree on the need for a focus on 'social challenges' at times where this dimension is of the highest importance in both the enlargement countries and the European Union. The initiative for a new employment and social reform programmes dialogue with the enlargement countries that we have set out in this year's strategy paper responds to that need.
On open bilateral issues, it is important that they are addressed as early as possible during the enlargement process, with determination, in a good neighbourly spirit and taking overall European Union interests into account. Bilateral issues should not hold up the accession process.
We welcome the acknowledgment in the report that the Copenhagen criteria continue to be the fundamental basis and should remain at the heart of enlargement policy. The Commission considers that the existing basis remains relevant and adequate.
The Commission always keeps policies under review taking account of developments and lessons learned and we are open to discuss further refinements. We have taken note of the comments in the report on the need to simplify and reduce the administrative burden of the Instrument for Pre-accession Assistance (IPA) funding. I agree with these comments and largely thanks to the lessons learned from the current IPA instrument and feedback from the various stakeholders, our IPA II proposal addresses this need.
Let me conclude by thanking you, Honourable Members, for you continued support for our enlargement policy. With your support I am confident that enlargement will remain a strong and credible policy with the rule of law at its centre, to the benefit of the citizens of the enlargement countries and the European Union as a whole.