EU Enlargement and Western Balkans - Speech by EU Commissioner Rehn
Sommaire: EU Enlargement and Western Balkans - Speech by EU Commissioner Rehn (10 February 2006: Ljubljana)
Speech by Mr Olli Rehn, Member of the European Commission, responsible for Enlargement, Law School of Ljubljana University, Ljubljana
EU enlargement and the Western Balkans
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Speaking in Ljubljana today means that I am addressing a very special audience. As Slovenians, you have only recently experienced the enlargement process from the applicant's perspective. Slovenian political and economic integration into the EU has been a success story. It is a great achievement that you should be proud of (- indeed, the EU is proud of it, too).
Today, you are witnessing the accession process of your neighbour Croatia, to be followed by the other Western Balkans countries.
With this particular background, you have come to appreciate the importance of good neighbourly relations. We gladly observe that the accession process to the Union induces political leaders to think increasingly in regional, rather than purely national, terms. Regional cooperation lies at the heart of the European project: it is indispensable for successful European integration.
Let me begin today by outlining the meaning of enlargement to the overall process of European Integration and then make a brief assessment of the state of play as to where we stand with the candidate countries and potential candidates.
After generations of division and conflict, the EU is peacefully creating a united and free Europe with a carefully managed accession process.
For over three decades, the EU has successfully enlarged to a very diverse set of countries. In new circumstances, such as after the collapse of communism, the EU has proved to be a stabilising power - also in Slovenia. For example, the EU used its membership conditionality to project its political and economic values to all transition countries, and continues to do the same today in the Western Balkans.
However, we are currently going through a difficult period on enlargement. Our challenge is, on the one hand, to pursue the historic mission of enlargement whilst, on the other hand, taking into account our citizens' concerns. To do just this, we have adopted a strategy around three key pillars: consolidation, conditionality and communication.
First of all, we have to consolidate
our existing commitments towards the countries already in the enlargement process. This means that although the EU will be cautious about taking on any new commitments, it must stand by its word with respect to its earlier promises.
The EU has given the countries in South-Eastern Europe - that is, Bulgaria, Romania, the Western Balkans and Turkey - the prospect of EU accession once they can meet the strict conditions. Sticking to our committments will both enhance the Union's credibility as an international actor and allow us to continue to bring stability and security to Europe.
The second element of our enlargement strategy is conditionality
. The pace of future enlargements depends on each applicant country's performance in meeting the rigorous standards.
The absorption capacity of the Union, that is, its ability to take in new member states, increases in proportion with the degree of preparedness of a candidate country to join the EU. Clearly, a well-functioning Union is in the interests of both present and future members. Therefore the EU will and must remain firm in demanding that aspiring members fulfil all the requirements before they join. This is the means for the EU to promote political, economic and administrative reforms in the
candidate countries. That conditionality brings concrete results is demonstrated by the fact that a certain general Gotovina is behind the bars whilst a certain author Pamuk is not. This leverage, however, can only be applied when the EU combines its rigorous membership conditionality with the incentive of a credible political perspective for the candidate and potential candidate countries.
The final component of our strategy is better communication
. We have to give the story of enlargement the credit it deserves! Firstly, it has extended the zone of peace and democracy within Europe in a manner unknown to history.
Secondly, economically, enlargement is a win-win situation for both old and new member states. Last year, for example, the new member states grew at double the rate of the old EU-15, on average. This dynamism in central, eastern and south-eastern Europe will benefit all of us. Enlargement creates new economic opportunities and jobs in all member states. Trade between the EU-15 and the ten new member states has quadrupled since the early 1990s.
These positive effects of enlargement, however, are not widely recognised. We have to learn to communicate better this success story. So far, both the Commission and national leaders have been better at doing enlargement than at communicating it!
The current enlargement agenda consists of the Balkans and Turkey in accordance with the decisions of the EU's Heads of State and Government. Last October, we saw the opening of accession negotiations with Turkey and Croatia. In late 2005 and early 2006, we began to negotiate Stabilisation and Association Agreements with Serbia and Montenegro as well as with Bosnia and Herzegovina. Most recently, the European Council followed the Commission's recommendation to send the political signal of
granting candidate country status to the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.
Let me now give you a few details with regard to the 'state of play' in the different countries:
Bulgaria and Romania
This year the EU will determine whether Bulgaria and Romania will join the EU in 2007 or 2008. To this end, the Commission is closely following up on the remaining problems identified in its October 2005 Comprehensive Monitoring Reports. In May 2006, the Commission will adopt new Monitoring Reports to reassess the situation and may recommend postponing accession until 2008, if necessary. The decision will be made by Member States by the June European Summit.
Turkey and Croatia
The opening of accession negotiations with Turkey and Croatia in October made the headlines and triggered a new debate about European integration. My reply to the concerns about Turkey is that Europe needs a stable, democratic and prosperous Turkey, which adopts and implements our values, our rule of law, our policies and our standards. This is our strategic interest, which the enlargement policy supports. However, at the moment, we are still in the first step of negotiations.
The Western Balkans is a particular challenge for the EU and, of course, bears special relevance for Slovenia. The region contains small countries that are at different stages on their road towards membership. Consequently, the enlargement policy needs to transform itself into the specific needs of these weak states and divided societies.
Last month, the Commission published a Communication on the Western Balkans outlining its strategy to foster trade, economic development, movement of persons, education and research, regional co-operation and civil society dialogue in the Western Balkans. These are the cornerstones of the EU's strategy to integrate the people of the region into the European mainstream.
The perspective for eventual integration into the EU gives an important incentive for these countries to deliver political and economic reforms, as they can join only once they have met the criteria in full.
Important tests for the future include for example the resolution of Kosovo's status, in which the EU will play a central role. Kosovo, as the rest of the Western Balkans has a clear European perspective.
The ongoing negotiation on its future status is clearly the most challenging political issue for the region. We support the status process and the efforts of the UN Status Envoy, President Ahtisaari. We are committed to a balanced and sustainable solution to create a truly democratic and multiethnic Kosovo. I encourage Belgrade to engage constructively in the talks. At the same time, I call on the Kosovars to work on decentralisation and the protection of minorities. Status can only come with
High on our agenda are a regional free-trade area and visa-facilitation. These issues will be among the absolute priorities under the Austrian Presidency of the EU in the first half of 2006.
The creation of a free-trade zone in the Western Balkans is in the hands of the countries of the region. The European Commission can provide technical assistance and advice, but the will must come from the participants themselves to bring this idea to a success.
Thanks to bilateral agreements trade has increased in the region, but the level is still far below its potential. A single agreement, replacing the 31 existing and only partially functioning agreements, would clearly increase intraregional trade, thus making the Western Balkans more attractive for investors. The aim of the European Commission is to boost trade, investment and economic development in the region.
Coming from Finland, let me refer you to the example of Nordic cooperation. Trade and economic integration over the past 50 years in a market of some 25 million people - similar to the size of the Western Balkans - has in the broader frame of European integration, created profound democratic stability and a rather successful economic area.
I am agnostic as to the exact method by which the free trade area should be created, as long as the letters FTA are present. I think the idea of exploiting CEFTA is worth exploring. In this case the CEFTA agreement should be amended, so as to allow participation of all countries of the Western Balkans.
From an EU perspective, Slovenian membership is a precious asset also in this context. Your knowledge and links with the neighbouring Western Balkans can provide us with insight and guidance in addressing the challenges that lie ahead of us in the region.
Borders of Europe
There are many people these days who wish to discuss the borders of Europe. I believe that the enlargement policy should not be held hostage to a theological debate about the ideal shape of the perfect Union, or the final borders of Europe. We now have a consolidated and sufficiently demanding enlargement agenda, so a theoretical discussion about whether, for instance, Ukraine should eventually join the EU would benefit neither the Union nor the Ukrainians at this point in time.
The map of Europe is defined in the first place in the minds of Europeans. Geography sets the frame, but fundamentally it is values that make the borders of Europe. Let's respect the principle of Article 49 of the EU's treaties, which states that any European country that respects and applies European values, especially democracy, human rights, the rule of law and fundamental freedoms, may apply for EU membership.
This does not mean that every European country must apply, or that the EU has to accept every one. But it does mean that we should not take static positions that are written to the stone - while the world around us is a most dynamic one.
Meanwhile, to foster partnership with neighbouring countries, the EU is developing other forms of cooperation, for example, in the form of the European Neighbourhood Policy.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
No words will be as persuasive as your personal experiences. You have "lived" enlargement. You are first-hand witnesses to the rapid developments taking place in Slovenia and in the region. You have seen the impressive increases in trade and tourism, for instance. Today Slovenians are in a position to reap the benefits of adhering to the strict and often originally uncomfortable conditions for membership: Having, for example, a stable currency and a competitive exchange rate are tangible and
lasting results of your country's disciplined journey towards accession.
Moreover, Slovenia's participation in several INTERREG initiatives, which pursue to increase interregional cooperation in the EU, is an indication of how well your country has integrated into the region and into the Union as a whole. To mention but a few, there are successful projects, such as the KATER water research programme, which has brought together Austria, Italy, Hungary and Slovenia. Similarly, the "Interreg News" programme has been successful in encouraging Italian/Slovenian media
I do not intend to list the whole balance sheet - mostly positive - of Slovenia's accession, nor the contributions Slovenia has made to the EU - that would indeed become too long a speech.
But we should, every now and then, remind ourselves of the benefits of the accession process. Reflecting on its success is a welcome source of motivation and momentum also for future as we take our enlargement policy forward. You have just heard that the Enlargement agenda of the European Union has shifted on - and today's applicant countries still have a number of steps to take in order to emulate your achievement to fully integrate into our Union. Let us hope that they will - like Slovenia -
go on to become show cases for European unification.
- Ref: SP06-215EN
- Source UE: Commission Européenne
- UN forum:
- Date: 10/2/2006
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