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The European Union: A Global Player

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The European Union in a changing world

External relations: a global commitment

EU enlargement: a historic opportunity

Trade: removing barriers, spreading growth

Promoting development, fighting poverty

Defense and security: keeping the peace

EU enlargement: a historic opportunity

Enlargement offers the unique opportunity of ending the artificial divide which has split the European continent into two for most of the past 60 years. Not only will individuals be able to move, study and work freely across frontiers, but businesses and economies in central and eastern Europe should prosper as a market-based economy takes root. Europe as a whole will also benefit economically and politically with the creation of a domestic market of 500 million people.

The EU has already experienced four separate enlargements (in 1973, 1981, 1986 and 1995) as it has grown from six to 15 members. But with 13 candidate countries in the wings stretching from Estonia in the north to Turkey in the south, this is easily the most ambitious. The preparations that have to be made by both existing and potential members to meet such a challenge are huge. To take just purely economic considerations, the GDP per head in purchasing power standards as a percentage of existing EU levels ranges from 79 % in Cyprus and 68 % in Slovenia to 23 % in Bulgaria and 27 % in Latvia.

Internally, the EU has to adapt its own policies, finances and procedures to prepare for a Union of 20 or more countries. The first two challenges were met at the EU summit in Berlin in March 1999 when budgetary ceilings were set for all areas of EU spending up to 2006. These were accompanied by wide-ranging reforms to regional, social and agricultural expenditure. Decision-making procedures are also being streamlined. In addition, the Commission is coordinating various information campaigns to inform the public of the implications of enlargement.

The EU summit in March 1999 made some 22 billion euro available for pre-accession support between 2000 and 2006 - double the amount allocated during the 1990s. In addition, the Union's budget will be ready for the first accessions from 2002 onwards with some 57 billion euro specifically earmarked for new Member States between 2002 and 2006.

No date has been set for the next enlargement, but the Union has committed itself to be in a position, both institutionally and politically, to welcome new members from the start of 2003 - provided they have met all the accession requirements.

EU membership conditions

Before a country can contemplate the possibility of joining the EU it must demonstrate that it satisfies the three basic membership criteria laid down at the Copenhagen Summit in June 1993. These are:

  • the existence of stable institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights and respect for and protection of minorities;

  • the existence of a functioning market economy as well as the capacity to cope with competitive pressure and market forces within the Union ;

  • the ability to take on the obligations of membership, including adherence to the aims of political, economic and monetary union.

Negotiations with six of the applicants - Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Estonia and Cyprus - opened in March 1998. After receiving the green light from EU leaders at their Helsinki European Council meeting in December 1999, formal negotiations we re launched in mid - February 2000 with another six candidate countries - Bulgaria, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Romania and Slovakia.

Although the accession negotiations have been launched in two groups, each applicant is considered on its own merits. The Union has put in place a fully flexible, multi-speed accession process where countries will be assessed on their own merits and join when they are able to meet all the obligations of membership.

The first stage in the complex process is a screening exercise involving a series of multilateral and bilateral meetings with the candidates. These enable the European Commission to present the 'acquis communautaire' - the whole corpus of EU Treaties, legislation and practices running to almost 100 000 pages - and to determine whether the applicants are able to apply it. This is followed by de tailed negotiations on the 31 individual policy chapters ranging from fisheries to external relations.

The Commission continues to monitor the progress each applicant makes in actually implementing and applying EU legislation and, increasingly, emphasis is placed on its pro per transposition into national law. In principle, each new member must be able to implement all EU obligations and responsibilities from the first day of entry, with temporary exemptions and transition measures kept to a minimum.

The Union has a number of specific pre-accession programmes to help the candidates prepare for membership. The best-known and longest-running vehicle for channelling the financial and technical cooperation to the candidates is Phare.

This programme provides grants, rather than loans, and can be broken down into two main priorities. The first, with some 30 % of the budget, is institution building to help national and regional administrations as well as regulatory and supervisory bodies familiarise themselves with EU objectives and procedures.

The second, with 70 % of the budget, helps the candidates bring their industries and major infrastructure up to EU standards by mobilising the investment required. The support is chiefly targeted at areas where EU norms and standards are becoming increasingly demanding: environment, transport, industrial plants, and quality standards in products and working conditions.

Other aid programmes are specifically aimed at agricultural and rural development and at transport and environmental projects. There are also programmes to fight corruption and organised crime and to handle refugees and asylum seekers. In addition, numerous seminars and workshops for officials in the candidate countries are held on subjects as diverse as fiscal surveillance and customs clearance.

While the European Union has taken the lead in helping candidate countries prepare for membership, it is not alone. Other international bodies lend their support and expertise: the World Bank, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the Council of Europe and the Nordic Council.


Turkey's formal relations with the Union date back to the 1963 association agreement and the country was the first of the current group of applicants to apply for EU member- ship - back in 1987. For a variety of political, economic and human rights reasons, the request made little progress over the years, until the Helsinki Summit in December 1999. At that meeting, EU Governments formally recognised the country's status by agreeing that 'Turkey is a candidate State destined to join the Union on the basis of the same criteria as applied to the other candidate States'.

As a result, the country benefits from a pre-accession strategy and partnership to stimulate and support its political and economic reforms and a closer political dialogue with the Union. It is able to participate in existing EU programmes and in meetings between the candidates and the Union and is being helped to bring its own domestic legislation into line with the EU's rules and practices.

But before actual accession negotiations may begin, Turkey must first demonstrate its respect for human rights and restructure many elements of the country's economy. Given the historical friction between Turkey and its Aegean neighbour, Greece, the Union has specifically called for the peaceful settlement of any outstanding border disputes and other related issues, such as Cyprus.

Alongside Turkey's EU membership aspirations, a customs union with a 15 million euro budget already links the two and the Union is making available a further 135 million euro to promote the country's economic and social development.

Enlargement must not lead to new barriers

Enlargement also raises questions about how the Union will organise its relationships with countries facing a longer road towards membership. The Commission has floated the concept of virtual membership to give Albania and former Yugoslavia, for instance, the stimulus and advantages of various forms of close cooperation even before they are ready for accession. But to benefit from these, they would have to meet certain criteria. These include recognition of each other's borders, settlement of all outstanding issues relating to the treatment of minorities and the establishment of a regional cooperation organisation. This would encourage economic integration by creating a free trade zone and then a customs union which could later merge with the EU's own customs union as a first step towards accession.

The EU is conscious of the impact enlargement will have on its neighbours for whom accession is not an issue, but with whom it wants close and constructive relations and so it is actively examining suitable strategic partnerships with Russia, Ukraine and the Mediterranean Basin.



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