European Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighbourhood Policy
Address to the Foreign Affairs Committee and European Affairs Committee of the French Senate
Joint Session of the Foreign Affairs and European Affairs Committees of the French Senate/ Paris
4 December 2012
Monsieur le Président, honorables membres,
Je suis honoré d'avoir l'occasion de contribuer au débat d'aujourd'hui sur l'élargissement.
Si vous me le permettez, je vais continuer en anglais.
Allow me to start with two key remarks:
First, despite the major challenges and significant global uncertainty that the European Union is facing, enlargement policy continues to contribute to peace, security and prosperity on our continent.
Second, as the European Union reflects 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.
Taking account of the major challenges facing the European Union and its interest in the political stability of the region, the 2012 enlargement package reflects a prudent, cautious approach based on strict conditionality with a focus on maintaining momentum for reforms.
I would like to say a few words about the horizontal themes and conclusions that we have drawn on individual countries.
The main theme of this year's package is putting the rule of law at the centre of enlargement policy. We will continue to prioritise work strengthening good governance and the rule of law, including judicial reform, the fight against corruption and organised crime and pushing public administration reform.
Other common challenges include strengthening freedom of expression, consolidating economic and financial stability, supporting sustainable growth, addressing issues of regional cooperation, good neighbourly relations, and solving bilateral issues as early as possible during the enlargement process. Such issues should not hold up the accession process.
What does this mean concretely for the countries?
Croatia's accession is tangible evidence of the transformative power of enlargement. Negotiations were marked by a strict conditionality, and Croatia reached the final stage of the accession process very well-prepared. France has been an active supporter and provided a lot of technical expertise in this process.
Our Comprehensive Monitoring Report, published in October 2012, states that Croatia is completing its alignment with the acquis. At the same time, the Report identifies a number of issues where increased efforts are required. Without prejudice to the importance of addressing all outstanding issues, the Commission considers that Croatia should pay particular attention to issues concerning competition policy, the judiciary and fundamental rights, and justice, freedom and security. We have given Croatia guidance on which priority actions to focus in these areas.
This does not mean that we question Croatia's capacity to be ready for European Union membership on 1 July 2013. I was recently in Croatia, and had the opportunity to discuss these issues with the country's leadership. I was pleased to see that they are actively working on fulfilling these priority actions and I am confident that the necessary efforts are being made, and that Croatia will deliver.
The Commission will continue monitoring Croatia's preparations and will publish its next Monitoring Report – the last one before the country's accession – in the spring of 2013. I look forward to the French Parliament ratifying the Treaty in time for us to welcome Croatia as our new Member State on 1 July 2013.
In Serbia - the leadership is acting on its commitment to pursue the country's European course. Good intentions need to be further translated into consistent action. The momentum of reforms is starting to be reinvigorated, in particular on the rule of law. Recent moves regarding Kosovo are encouraging – the 19 October and 7 November meetings of the two Prime Ministers, smooth participation in regional meetings, and intensified preparation for implementation of IBM protocol. A third meeting with High Representative/ Vice-President of the Commission (HRVP) Catherine Ashton is taking place today. We hope to see concrete results.
Serbia is expected to implement all agreements to date and to engage constructively on the full range of issues in a higher level dialogue facilitated by HRVP Ashton. My visit to Belgrade on 11 October and that of HRVP Ashton with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on 31 October were successful in encouraging the Serbian leadership to take such steps.
We are ready to report when sufficient progress is achieved on visible and sustainable improvement of relations with Kosovo with a view to opening of accession negotiations. Criteria for opening of accession negotiations remain the key priority as defined in the 2011 Council conclusions, and endorsed by the European Council. Full normalisation is to be achieved step by step within the framework of accession negotiations.
As part of this year's enlargement package, the Commission adopted a Communication on a Feasibility Study for a Stabilisation and Association Agreement with Kosovo. The study confirms that a Stabilisation and Association Agreement can be concluded between the European Union and Kosovo in a status neutral way.
Kosovo is largely ready to open negotiations for such an agreement. We will propose negotiating directives once Kosovo has addressed a number of short term priorities that we have identified in key areas. There would be further conditions for concluding the Stabilisation and Association Agreement.
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Bosnia and Herzegovina has made only limited progress towards meeting the political criteria and achieving more functional, coordinated and sustainable institutional structures. I appreciated very much that last week, all the political leaders recommitted themselves to the very important tasks reflected in the Roadmap. Strong public support in Bosnia and Herzegovina for European Union membership needs to be matched by the political will to reach this goal. The newly formed six party coalition makes progress over the next months possible.
The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia
This is the fourth time that we have recommended opening accession negotiations. And it is seven years since the country received candidate status. We strongly believe in moving the accession process to the next stage to keep the pace of reforms and to consolidate what has already been achieved. The country is well prepared but negotiations are needed for the European Union to engage more deeply on issues such as the rule of law and fight against organized crime. Reforms need to be "locked" in in a dynamic process and inter-ethnic relations need strengthening. The current status quo is becoming increasingly untenable.
It is essential that good neighbourly relations with all countries are maintained and that a negotiated and mutually acceptable solution to the name issue is found under the auspices of the UN. The Commission recommendation has already had a catalytic effect in this respect and there has been an intensification of dialogue with Greece on the name issue. The UN negotiations in New York on 19-20 November 2012 were useful and constructive. Also with Bulgaria there is a fresh focus on addressing bilateral issues. Foreign Ministers Mladenov and Poposki are discussing concrete proposals on improving neighbourly relations. The Commission will continue to support the discussions with Greece and Bulgaria. A positive decision by the Council would further boost efforts to address outstanding issues.
The opening of accession negotiations last June reflected continued progress on key reforms. The new approach to 'judiciary and fundamental rights' and 'justice, freedom and security' will see these chapters opened early in Montenegro's accession process, putting the focus on the rule of law. Montenegro needs to further develop its track record in this area especially in the fight against organised crime and corruption. Screening is underway and to be completed in the summer of 2013 with possible opening of some chapters.
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. We are not proposing opening of accession negotiations just yet, but granting candidate country status, should a few further conditions be met on electoral and parliamentary reform and work on key priorities, including in the areas of rule of law, public administration reform and fundamental rights. Keeping Albania anchored to the European perspective can play an important role in consolidating its political stability and ensuring continuation of reforms.
Turkey is a key country for the European Union considering its dynamic economy, strategic location and important regional role. The latter has never been more obvious than now, given the situation in Syria and Turkey’s efforts to deal with the refugee crisis. The accession process is and remains the most effective framework for a constructive cooperation. However, this process has come to a virtual standstill. We launched the positive agenda to help get it back on track, and are reaping the first results, notably as regards steps to reduce the visa requirements for Turkish citizens which should ultimately provide for a visa free regime. It seems that we will be able to present Turkey shortly with a road map towards this end. But more is needed: it is important to be able to continue with the formal negotiations. The Commission therefore believes it is important that, in line with established procedures and relevant Council conclusions, work resumes on negotiating chapters interrupted over a number of years due to the lack of consensus amongst Member States. We believe that new momentum in the negotiating process will also help Turkey address persisting shortcomings in respect for fundamental rights, first and foremost the right to freedom of expression. Finally, the Commission expects Turkey to fully implement the additional protocol to the Ankara Agreement to all Member States, including Cyprus.
On the Cyprus issue, it is time to break the standstill in the negotiations under the auspices of the United Nations and build on progress achieved to date in a positive climate. We are ready to play our part by providing strong political support and technical advice on issues within European Union competence.
Iceland continues to fully meet the political criteria. It is well advanced in preparations for European Union membership. The accession negotiations with Iceland are proceeding well in a constructive spirit. We expect to make further progress at the next Inter-Governmental Accession Conference on 18th December. European Union accession remains an issue of lively public debate in Iceland. We are 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. We hope that we can count on the support of France to move forward in the negotiations.
Let me conclude by thanking you, Honourable Members, for your attention and your continued engagement with us on enlargement.
I am looking forward to today's discussion.