Sumario: 14 October 2009, Brussels - Speech by Olli Rehn, EU Commissioner for Enlargement, "Enlargement package 2009" at a Press conference
The College has just adopted this year's enlargement package.
This is the last enlargement package of the present Commission. Before I dwell into the key findings, I would like to take a step back and reflect on the road we have travelled in the past 5 years - that is, on what is the present Commission's legacy in enlargement policy.
We have tried over the past 5 years to strike a delicate balance between consolidation, on one hand, and respect of commitments, on the other. This has enabled us to keep on moving in a gradual and carefully managed enlargement process, without losing the gravitational pull that drives reform in the candidate countries and potential candidates.
In these difficult times of economic crisis, the membership applications of Montenegro and Albania have underscored the Union's continued power of attraction, and our role in promoting stability and prosperity. Iceland's application for membership adds a new dimension to our enlargement agenda too, that of anchoring financial stability.
The EU's transformative power is greatest in our South-Eastern Europe, where our "soft power" of attraction provides hope and drives reform. This is where we can really make a difference. Behind the technical narrative of today's Progress Reports, this is the story they tell.
To prove the point, there is no question that the European perspective of the Western Balkans and Turkey has been a factor for stability and societal progress, and for democratic and economic transformation.
Croatia is nearing the finishing line, after four years of intense accession negotiations. Croatia however needs to pursue and intensify its reforms efforts, especially on the judiciary, fight against corruption and organised crime before the negotiations can be concluded. And it has to definitely solve the issue of access to documents for ICTY as a matter of urgency.
We have free-trade arrangements in place with the rest of the Western Balkans - the B>Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro, Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia and Kosovo.
And we are working to extend visa-free travel next January to the citizens of those countries that have met the EU's conditions, especially the issuing of biometric passports. Visa liberalisation has successfully driven reforms in areas such as border security and border management.
In the Western Balkans, the progress achieved is not irreversible and political minefields remain, either in the form of bilateral problems between certain countries, or domestic stalemates in others.
This means we must continue what I'd a policy of political de-mining in the Western Balkans, to avoid back-sliding. We have seen some successes, such as the recent agreement on solving the border dispute between Croatia and Slovenia with the help of some mediation and the subsequent re-launch of Croatia's accession talks after a long blockage.
As regards Bosnia and Herzegovina, last week, together with Sweden's Foreign Minister Carl Bildt and US Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg, we met with the leaders of the country for two days to try to overcome the political stalemate that has dragged this country backwards over the past year or so. We are going back next week.
We want Bosnia and Herzegovina to be a credible applicant for EU and NATO membership. But for this to happen, it needs to stand on its own feet, without the OHR, and be able to govern itself effectively.
Let us be clear, an application for EU membership by Bosnia and Herzegovina could only be considered by the EU once the OHR has been closed.
Bosnia and Herzegovina will need to reform its constitutional framework to permit its institutions to function effectively before the Commission could recommend the granting of candidate country status. Bosnia and Herzegovina, like any other country, will need to be in a position to adopt, implement and enforce the laws and rules of the EU.
The United States and the European Union are working with the Bosnian leaders these days to help kick-start their Euro-Atlantic journey.
But we cannot want it more than they do. We trust that the positive first steps made in Sarajevo last week, will be converted into a deal next week. This is an opportunity that will not come around again any time soon, and that should not be missed. Now is the right time to conclude an agreement, before the election campaign of next fall's elections start.
The leaders - and ultimately the people - of Bosnia and Hertzegovina must decide, whether the country wants to stay permanently behind its neighbours, in an associate partnership only with the SAA, or whether it wants and is able to get its act together and strive seriously for EU membership, with all the rights and obligations that it implies.
I hope, for the sake of their citizens and the Western Balkans as a whole, that the Bosnian leaders will rise to the occasion and reach a deal.
The EU and the United States are engaged at the highest levels because we want Bosnia to succeed.
From today's discussion in the Commission, I would also like to highlight that we are now able to recommend the opening of accession negotiations with the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.
The country has made convincing progress and substantially addressed the key reform priorities, also known as the 8+1 benchmarks. The Commission considers that the country sufficiently fulfils the Copenhagen political criteria. These elements have enabled the Commission to recommend the opening of accession negotiations.
I trust that the Government in Skopje will take this as a very strong encouragement to finally settle the name issue. We underline in our conclusions that "Maintaining good neighbourly relations, including a negotiated and mutually acceptable solution to the name issue, under the auspices of the UN, remains essential". Now it is indeed more essential and urgent than ever, for the sake of the country's EU future.
You have the main findings on the country reports presented in the press materials at your disposal, so I will not elaborate on every single country now. I want to share with you a number of general remarks that I find particularly relevant.
The rule of law, in particular the fight against corruption and organised crime, remains a major challenge which the enlargement countries need to address at an early stage. Plenty of reform work is going to address the problem, and the Commission will continue to use all instruments of the enlargement process to help them in this endeavour.
We have identified in several countries problems related to the freedom of expression and the freedom of media. These problems need to be addressed as a matter of urgency. The issues at stake are serious, as they concern, still and again, fundamental rights.
For instance, while in Turkey there was much less prosecutions under the new article 301 of the Turkish penal code than some years ago, intellectuals nevertheless continue to be hassled for their words. I was particularly disappointed to learn about a recent Court ruling which could take Orhan Pamuk again to trial - still about the same issue which took him to court already.
Moreover, too many other provisions of the Penal Code, or of the anti-terror law, are used to effectively restrict freedom of expression. Legal uncertainties and pressures of all sorts affect freedom of the press in practice, as shown by the tax fine against the Doğan media group.
In the broader strategic context, Turkey plays a key role in regional security e.g. in the Middle East and Southern Caucasus, security of energy supply and the promotion of dialogue between civilisations.
I welcome the normalisation of relations with Armenia, which is a historic step and which the EU welcomes as a contribution to stability and peace in the region. Likewise, I welcome the "Democratic Opening" to resolve the Kurdish question by wide consultation and concrete measures.
We expect Turkey to ensure full, non-discriminatory implementation of the Additional Protocol to the Association Agreement and to make progress towards the normalisation of relations with the Republic of Cyprus. We call on the leaders of the two communities in Cyprus to bring the settlement talks to a successful end as soon as possible and on Turkey to contribute in concrete terms to such a comprehensive settlement of the Cyprus issue.
Finally, let us recall that our policy of stabilisation through enlargement has major implications for the EU's foreign policy and for our global role. Our credibility as a global actor rests on our ability to shape our own immediate neighbourhood. That's why it is necessary to ensure the continuity and credibility of our enlargement policy.