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European Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy
New Europe and enlargement in a new political context
Conference on 10 years of the Czech membership in the EU: "The Czech
Republic and Europe through each other's eyes"
Prague, Czech Republic, 11 April 2014
Ladies and gentlemen, distinguished guests,
Development in the east of our continent started to evolve quickly recently. People decided to fight for the opportunity of political and economic association with the EU. As these events unfold, I would like to take the opportunity to reflect on what EU has achieved already, and what is still ahead of us.
The European Union of today is very different from the Union of 2004 and it is continuing to change to meet the challenges of the future. The deepening of integration that has been driven by the financial crisis has increased the focus on preserving a strong and stable Euro Area. Member States have worked to put in place a European banking union with central European bank supervision; a European fiscal union with stricter controls over national budgets and deficits; and a European Union with more joint decision making on economic policies. Through the European Union, our Member States have worked together to uphold the single market. Working together they have taken the big decisions on competitiveness, innovation and infrastructure that are now leading to economic growth. At the same time we have placed the necessity to create employment opportunities at the heart of our economic policy.
And it is this new deepening of integration which increases Europe's relevance in today's globalised world. Globalisation has changed our view of the 19th and 20th centuries. Back then what mattered was who would profit the most from the industrial and scientific-technical revolution. Today, in the globalisation era, it is true again that size matters, as does the influence that derives from it. European Union with 28 Member States and more than half a billion inhabitants is stronger. Together we can face better the consequences of globalisation, the financial crisis or climate change. And the deepening of integration creates conditions for fostering unity among Member States. And that is why it is so important to put together these two seemingly opposite movements, which are part of the EU from the outset, the deepening of integration and enlargement.
Allow me to look at the future of such a European Union through three thoughts, each of which is related to enlargement policy:
Thought one. Enlargement was and is the European Union's most effective tool for strengthening security and prosperity in Europe; for transformation. Enlargement has helped economically the old and new Member States and the EU as a whole. At the same time, many doubts have arisen, but they were rather about the level of preparedness of the new Member States than about enlargement itself. That's why I, together with my colleagues, made it the priority of my mandate to further strengthen the credibility of the enlargement process. We have chosen to keep the process strict but fair; focusing on values and principles, including respect for fundamental rights and freedom of expression.
Our insistence on credibility is in a way retelling the original enlargement story. Two years ago we concentrated on the first of the three pillars of this story - Rule of Law as one of the key areas. Our so called "new approach" means deficiencies in each country are tackled early and consistently throughout the accession process and progress in this area determines the overall speed of the accession process. Since last year, economic governance is the second pillar, and competitiveness and growth. We help the countries meet the economic criteria through the "candidate version" of the European semester. This year I intend to concentrate on the third and last pillar of the new enlargement story – on strengthening of democratic institutions and public administration, with a greater focus on the needs of citizens and business. We have moved from ticking boxes to establishing solid track records. That is the only way to ensure that candidate countries enter the EU fully prepared and for the whole process to be trusted by Member States.
Second thought. What is the final goal of enlargement? Or if you wish, where is the future EU border?
The historical circumstances at each wave of enlargement have been different. The 2004/2007 enlargement reunited Europe after the fall of the Berlin wall. Enlargement to the Western Balkans is about bringing peace, stability and prosperity into a region just recently torn by an armed conflict. The prospect of EU membership of these countries plays a key role in the process of their reconciliation. A good example is the recent agreement and continuing dialogue between Serbia and Kosovo. And this aspect of the enlargement policy has contributed to the Nobel Peace Prize award to the European Union in 2012.
But just as our previous and current enlargements have been in response to historical circumstances, the future phase should be the answer to globalisation. It will depend on our openness, size/influence and on our unity if we are to fight the consequences of globalisation and if we are to use them for our profit. The European Union is not an end in itself. It is a means for solving difficult issues, delivering changes that are anchored in values. As the European Union continues to evolve, it also has to continue to deliver for its citizens. We need to keep it open to those that wish to share our values and we should continue using this interest wisely and to its full potential.
Recent momentous geopolitical developments in Eastern Europe of which I spoke at the beginning, have caused us to reflect harder on the final objective of the Eastern Partnership. Some of these countries have membership aspirations. I consider it our duty to match their ambition. I'm not asking for a dramatic change of European Union policy on this issue. Article 49 of the Treaty on European Union already gives this opportunity. To give those countries a perspective that does not exist today, we need to connect the challenges of globalisation, our interests and the membership perspective as our most powerful transformative tool. Recent Foreign Affairs Council conclusions on Ukraine made clear that the Association Agreement is not the end goal of our cooperation.
Third thought. I said at the beginning that the EU can adapt to the current challenges. But we need to make it adaptable to the future ones. Deepening of integration and enlargement depend on each other. We can’t talk about the vision for enlargement without addressing the future of the European Union.
Here I'm talking about the capacity of the European Union to integrate new Member States on the basis of our values and principles. For that, we need more than just a credible enlargement policy. We need a political and institutional framework of a multi-layered European Union. A framework, which will be adaptive to change and which will allow those countries who want to go deeper with their European integration to go deeper, while at the same time, creating a more comfortable space for those Member States and candidate countries that are not yet ready today to join the core group. It must be a structure which will allow appropriate democratic legitimacy of each layer and which will bring the European project closer to the citizens and citizens closer to the European project. A framework, which will allow the continuation of enlargement policy beyond our current ambition together with deepening of the integration, which will not be led anymore by the ambitions of the slowest ones. Last, but not least, we also need to rethink the way we work in the European Union so new Member States are ready for the European Union of tomorrow when they join. We need to prepare them more from the inside and not outside and that would be possible only in the multi-layered European Union I mentioned earlier.
To conclude, I believe it important to recall that the European Union is a project of peace, stability and prosperity, born from the ashes of World War II. A project, which contributed to the signing of the Helsinki Final Act which in the past 40 years has played a key role in overcoming divisions in Europe and building a peaceful and united continent. The clear breach of the Helsinki process in Crimea underlines how important the protection of values, principles and respect for international law is in Europe. This is not about geopolitics. It is about understanding the simple fact that if we will not support those who strive for transformation towards our shared values and prosperity, others will get involved.
A stronger relationship with our allies and partners only further strengthens the European Union. The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) that is currently being negotiated between the European Union and the United States is a case in point. We are not building walls. The name of the game is a commitment to rules and norms and respect for international law backed by strong rule of law and democracy. The same logic could equally apply to the relationship with the future Eurasian Customs Union, which would allow a free trade zone to be created from Vladivostok to Lisbon. Our current policy – and the future ones – has to go in this direction.