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
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
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.
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
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
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
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.