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European Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighbourhood Policy
Speech: Address to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe
Parliamentary Assembly of Council of Europe, Strasbourg
24 January 2013
Mr President, Mr Secretary General, Honourable Members,
I am delighted to have the opportunity to address the Parliamentary Assembly today. The timing is good, coming as it does after the adoption of the 2012 Enlargement Package in October and the Council conclusions on enlargement of last month which have set an ambitious programme for the first half of 2013. We're also looking forward to the adoption of the next European Neighbourhood Policy package in March.
Allow me to start by expressing my appreciation for the close and efficient cooperation between the European Commission and the Council of Europe, particularly with regard to the implementation of the Copenhagen political criteria by candidate countries and potential candidates in the field of protection of democracy, rule of law and human rights. I also recognise the crucial role of the Council of Europe with our neighbours to the east and south, strengthening democracy and safeguarding human rights.
The past year has seen major progress by a number of enlargement countries on their road towards the European Union. Croatia is very much on its way to becoming the 28th member state, Serbia is a candidate country and accession negotiations have opened with Montenegro.
In 2013 it will be essential for the credibility of our policy that the momentum of enlargement is maintained. This means continuing to engage with government authorities and other important stakeholders to move the enlargement agenda forward, so that in twelve months' time we can look back and say that our efforts have been rewarded.
The Council of Europe is a key partner in various aspects of the enlargement process. Our cooperation in joint programmes and projects such as the Sarajevo Process on Refugees has been excellent and we also appreciate the activities of the Council of Europe on fighting discrimination and promoting Roma inclusion.
The Commission also fully supports the investigation under EULEX auspices into the alleged crimes committed in the period during and after the conflict in Kosovo, and addressed in the Marty report endorsed by this Assembly.
Before taking you through the enlargement agenda for the year ahead, let me touch on three horizontal issues which I think are extremely important and which will define enlargement this year.
The first is the credibility of the enlargement process. We are aware of how important it is to take the lessons of the past into account throughout the enlargement process, to keep it credible and maximise its transformative power for candidate and aspirant countries. The clearest example I can give you of this is the core theme of the 2012 Enlargement package, our focus on the rule of law. This is central to the whole enlargement process, and it makes a critical difference by strengthening democratic institutions, improving the daily lives of citizens. Our approach to chapters 23 and 24 of the acquis, which have the greatest focus on the rule of law, has evolved to take into account our experiences: we now open these chapters at the start of negotiations, and close them at the end, to allow countries to develop a solid track record of performance in this area. I believe this shows our commitment to making the enlargement process work for everyone involved.
The second is open bilateral issues and here we face a challenge because we clearly say that:
(a) we don't want bilateral issues to be imported into the European Union; and
(b) we don't want bilateral 'mines' to explode in the middle of the accession process, which could hold up or derail the process.
And that begs the question: how are we going to handle this open bilateral issues? Some may be solved easily between parties concerned, others may be solved with the help of the European Union, and as Croatia and Slovenia have shown, an arbitration mechanism could help. Ultimately we have the International Court of Justice in The Hague. What is most important in 2013 is that this issue is acknowledged as a major element of good neighbourly relations, a principle to which we will refer more and more as we move to the next stage of enlargement. And it is important that we start to tackle these issues so that they don't hold up the accession process.
The third horizontal issue which will be very important in the coming year is how to reconcile the 130,000 or 140,000 pages of the acquis, of the legislation adopted over the past years, with what is in the pipeline and what is being decided in each and every Council and European Parliament session. The crisis has shown that as it is important to deliver on the acquis, it is also important that not only candidate countries, but also aspirant countries are associated to the changes in economic governance of the European Union.
Looking to the work that lies ahead on enlargement, in the Spring the European Commission will publish its last monitoring report on Croatia and also a series of reports, on the basis of which the Council will consider whether, if sufficient progress has been made, to open accession negotiations with Serbia and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, and whether to approve a mandate to start negotiations with Kosovo on a Stabilisation and Association Agreement.
Depending on progress, a report on Albania is also possible and I look forward to the advancement of accession negotiations with Montenegro, hopefully with Turkey and also with Iceland after the April elections. 2013 should also see progress in the visa dialogue with Kosovo and the launch of the visa dialogue with Turkey.
Let me now also turn to Bosnia and Herzegovina. You are familiar with the stalemate regarding the so-called Sejdić-Finci ruling of the European Court on Human Rights.
A year before elections is not the ideal time for compromises, but Bosnia and Herzegovina does not have a choice. Secretary General Jagland made it clear that the next elections could not be seen as meeting European standards, if this issue was not solved. And I fully support him on this issue.
Furthermore, non-implementation of the Sejdić-Finci ruling is keeping both the Stabilisation and Association Agreement as well as a credible EU membership application on hold. And only once the Stabilisation and Association Agreement enters into force will the EU be in a position to support Bosnia and Herzegovina in addressing the structural shortcomings of Dayton.
The Head of Delegation and EU Special Representative Sorensen received a reinforced political mandate during his visit in Brussels last week. Baroness Ashton and I made clear that he enjoys our full support for intensified engagement with political leaders and government representatives in an effort to reach a solution.
I am also making it clear to Bosnia and Herzegovina's representatives that two myths should be dispelled when it comes to implementing the Sejdić-Finci ruling. First, it is not true that EU Member States would eventually lower the bar for a credible membership application, if Bosnia and Herzegovina's authorities continued to fail in their efforts to reach a shared solution. Second, it is equally not true that procrastinating on the Sejdić-Finci ruling implementation would lead to a situation which was more conducive to a solution after the elections – because we would not consider such elections up to the necessary standards. A solution is needed now.
In this regard, the role of the Strasbourg-based institutions in assisting Bosnia and Herzegovina's authorities is crucial – this includes you as the Assembly, Honourable President Mignon, and Secretary General Jagland. I would like to thank you for your cooperation so far, and to plead for your continuous active engagement.
In these difficult times for Europe, enlargement continues to be a part of the solution. The European Union has never been about building walls but about eliminating dividing lines through values and principles. There is no more powerful an instrument of transformation than enlargement. We need to continue using it wisely.
Let me turn now to our European Neighbourhood Policy.
Following the May 2011 review, the European Union has increased the emphasis in its Neighbourhood Policy on a shared commitment to human rights, democracy and rule of law. We have put 'more for more', differentiation and joint ownership with partners at the heart of our approach. The implementation of the ‘more for more’ approach is based on this: more progress towards reform in exchange for a stronger relationship with the European Union.
The new approach to the neighbourhood also means we have to reach out to citizens. It means not only working with governments, but also extending the hand of partnership to civil society. I have seen first-hand the tremendous work done by civil society across the European neighbourhood, and it is essential that we build lasting, sustainable assistance to enable civil society to continue to deliver on our shared objectives. We have started to do so with the establishment of the Civil Society facility, the creation of the European Endowment for Democracy and reinforced dialogue with civil society. But more needs to be done.
Our new approach also provides us with an opportunity to deepen our interactions with other agents of change and reform, including the Council of Europe. I am clear that as events in the European neighbourhood affect us all, so the European Neighbourhood Policy is not just for the EU institutions to consider. We need to open the ENP in an inclusive way that allows other non-governmental actors, countries and international organisations to share in its aims and contribute towards its success.
We plan to publish the next ENP package in March. It will notably include a communication and twelve country progress reports. The progress reports will include valuable input from the Council of Europe, for which I am very grateful.
The Council of Europe has a key role to play here, and in our March communication, we will focus on the state of implementation of the ENP and examine the general trends across our neighbourhood. We recognise that progress on the 2012 key recommendations for each partner was uneven and concerned mainly the organisation of free and fair elections. More work will be needed in 2013 to implement all key recommendations, particularly in the areas of civil freedoms and rule of law, so that our ambitious commitments make a practical difference on the ground.
We believe it is time for improving the comprehensive approach to ENP, also making Common Foreign Security Policy and Common Security and Defence Policy tools more effective in tackling the security challenges and protracted conflicts of our neighbourhood.
In this overall context, cooperation with the Council of Europe is strategic. The Council of Europe has indisputable assets: its unique pan-European dimension, its varied experience of drawing up legal standards, monitoring their application, and its experience in building up democratic institutions and harmonising legislation.
We are particularly interested in relying on the Council of Europe's expertise and added value on five key areas:
• first, constitutional governance,
• second, justice reform,
• third, the fight against corruption and money laundering,
• fourth, the promotion of European democratic values, and
• fifth, consolidation of democracy with a particular interest in the aspects of freedom of association and assembly and intercultural dialogue.
Our experience of cooperating with the Council of Europe in our Eastern Neighbourhood shows how important its support is in the establishment of sustainable democracies. Working together through the EU-funded Council of Europe Eastern Partnership Facility, multilateral cooperation in the framework of the Platform on Democracy, Good Governance and Stability are making a real difference in our Eastern neighbourhood. This Platform and related Panels work to achieve high standards in elections, judicial reform and the fight against corruption, and also play an important part in supporting the fight against cyber-crime.
In November, the third Eastern Partnership Summit will take place in Vilnius. The Summit will focus on the implementation of the reform process in partner countries based on the Eastern Partnership Roadmap. Partner countries' efforts to vigorously implement reforms will provide the best possible setting for the Vilnius Summit. We have always been clear that for countries in the Eastern Partnership, the possibility offered by Article 49 of the Treaty on European Union remains alive – by this, I mean the possibility of joining our shared European project if they share our principles of freedom, democracy and respect for the rule of law.
The Council of Europe and the EU share a common interest in supporting and working together with our neighbours to the south. I would like to recognise the Council of Europe's efforts, which include:
• the adoption of the Partners for Democracy status;
• the on-going cooperation dialogue with Morocco, Tunisia and Jordan;
• the identification of cooperation priorities for Morocco, Tunisia and Jordan; and
• the opening of Council of Europe offices in Tunis and Rabat.
I also recognise the important support that the Council of Europe's specialised bodies could offer to other partners in the region, in particular the support of this assembly and the Venice Commission.
Together with the Council of Europe, we are facing the challenge of making our offer more attractive to the people of the South. They need to be convinced that stronger engagement with the EU, and adherence to the values defended by the Council of Europe, is in their interest, reflecting their legitimate aspirations.
For the EU, we see the ultimate goal for this region being integration in the EU internal market, enlarging the European economic zone to include partners, and projecting our norms and standards. I recognize that it is challenging to explain the benefits of this long term ambition to citizens, and more complicated than for our partners in the East. But I believe we need to make this ambition much more visible, concrete and explain its benefits to people on the ground.
Coordination between the European Union and the Council of Europe is crucial for coherent and effective action. We rely on each other's efforts to advance our common objectives and support our shared values. I am absolutely clear that the key is to work hand in hand to provide the best support possible for the democratic process in the partner countries. I hope that in the future we will have the opportunity to expand our collaboration to make it even more stable and strategic.
Thank you for your attention, I look forward to our discussion.to our discussion....