Select Committee on European Communities Twenty-First Report



50. The Commission was due to publish in October 1999 its second set of annual progress reports on the applicant countries. It did so: and—not entirely unexpectedly—it accompanied them with new proposals for taking the enlargement negotiations forward[29]. The proposals are summarised here; we discuss them in Part 5.

51. In his speech to the European Parliament on 13 October 1999 presenting the Commission's proposals[30], the President of the European Commission (Commissioner Prodi) said:

    "The Copenhagen criteria[31] are so fundamental that the European Council meeting in Luxembourg [in December 1997] and Cologne [in June 1999] recommended opening further accession negotiations only with countries which meet them. If we apply these recommendations to the letter, it rules out opening negotiations with most of the remaining applicant countries since they do not meet the criteria. The risk in taking this 'hard line' approach is that the countries concerned, having already made great efforts and sacrifices, will become disillusioned and turn their backs on us. Their economic policies will begin to diverge, and an historic opportunity will have been lost—perhaps forever. In the changed political landscape of Europe, especially in the Balkan region, some countries may also let slip the progress they have made towards democracy and human rights, and the European Union will have seriously failed the people of those countries".

Accordingly, he said, the Commission would recommend to the Helsinki European Council [in December 1999] that

    "accession negotiations be opened in 2000 with all candidate countries that have fulfilled the Copenhagen political criteria and have proved ready to take the necessary measures to comply with the economic criteria—ie Bulgaria, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Romania and Slovakia".

It would however remain the case that candidate countries must fulfil all the Copenhagen criteria before being admitted as EU Member States.

52. Moreover, the Commission is proposing some caveats in the case of Bulgaria and Romania. The opening of negotiations with Bulgaria should be conditional on "a decision by the Bulgarian authorities before the end of 1999 on an acceptable closure date for [the four unsafe units] at Kozloduy nuclear power plant and upon a confirmation of the significant progress accomplished in the economic reform process". For Romania, the opening of negotiations should be conditional on "the confirmation of effective action announced by the Romanian authorities to provide adequate budgetary resources and to implement structural reform of child care institutions before the end of 1999" and on "a further assessment of the economic situation … in the expectation that appropriate measures will have been taken to address the macro-economic situation"[32].

53. As for Turkey, Commissioner Prodi said that although it should be considered as a candidate country, negotiations should not be opened until Turkey met "the Copenhagen criteria, and in particular the political criteria with their clear emphasis on human rights". The Commission makes detailed recommendations for enabling Turkey to "benefit from that status [as a candidate country]", including the adoption of an Accession Partnership[33].

54. The Commission is also proposing a change in the negotiating process. In future, rather than opening an equal number of chapters simultaneously with all candidates, "the nature and number of negotiating chapters to be successively opened with each candidate country will be determined by the EU applying the principle of differentiation, that is taking full account of each candidate's progress in preparing for membership under the Copenhagen criteria". This would mean, said Commissioner Prodi, that

    "each applicant country will proceed at its own pace, be assessed on its own merits and join when it is finally able to meet all the obligations of membership".

    He suggested that the EU should "open only those chapters which can realistically be concluded in the short and medium term".

55. The procedure for closing chapters would also be revised. The Commission says:

    "Ideally, negotiations should inject increased momentum into the candidates' preparations for membership. The procedure for provisional closure of chapters not directly linked with the state of preparatory progress, as applied until now, may have the contrary effect" [34].

All chapters provisionally closed are to be re-opened from the beginning of 2000 "in order to allow newly adopted EU acquis, not yet addressed during the negotiations, to be included". The Commission proposes that the opportunity should be taken to ensure that the candidates' preparations in the relevant area are in line with their commitments, and that this should be one of the criteria in future in reaching a decision as to whether any chapters can be provisionally closed. We note, however, that the Commission's formal proposals do not incorporate Commissioner Prodi's suggestion that a target date should be set for the closure of each chapter.

56. The Commission welcomes the fact that some candidates have already set themselves target dates for the conclusion of negotiations, or for accession. But it does not suggest that the EU should commit itself to any such dates until it has "a fuller assessment of each candidate's situation both in the negotiations and in preparations for membership"[35].

57. The Commission also proposes that the notion of a "reasonable" transition period should be clarified. It suggests that:

    "For the areas linked to the extension of the Single Market, regulatory measures could be implemented quickly. Any transition periods should therefore be few and short. For those areas of the acquis where considerable adaptations are necessary and which require substantial efforts, including important financial outlays (in areas such as environment, energy, infrastructure), transition arrangements could be spread over a definite period of time provided candidates can demonstrate that alignment is underway and that they are committed to detailed and realistic plans for alignment, including the necessary investments"[36].

58. The Commission believes that it will be possible to "conclude negotiations with the most advanced candidates in 2002". It therefore "considers that the process of institutional reform must be oriented in such a way that the very substantial changes that are necessary as a condition for enlargement will be in force in 2002", so that decisions can be taken from that date "on the accession of candidates that fulfil all necessary criteria"[37].

59. The Commission document also looks beyond the current candidate States, saying that the EU has been criticised in the past for

    "not addressing broader geo-political questions such as the prospect of membership for countries which are not currently in the enlargement process or the kind of relationship the EU wants to have with non-candidate European countries"[38].

It distinguishes[39] between groups of countries "based on their eligibility for and aspiration to future membership":

  • countries such as Switzerland and Norway which meet the criteria but "are not currently pursuing membership";
  • the countries of the former Yugoslavia and Albania, which "aspire to EU membership but are far from meeting the criteria", to which the Union is ready to offer "the perspective of future membership provided they work together with the Union and among themselves to implement a strategy of stabilisation for the region", and would in the meanwhile offer Stabilisation and Association Agreements[40];
  • other neighbours to the East (where the Partnership and Co-operation Agreements were an excellent basis on which to build) and to the South (where the Union should complete its offer of Association Agreements)[41].

Commissioner Prodi said that now was the time to work together "with our neighbours for whom membership is not an issue but with whom we want close and constructive relations ... to construct a wider European area of peace, stability and prosperity".


60. In September 1999 Commissioner Prodi invited a group consisting of former Belgian Prime Minister Jean-Luc Dehaene, ex-German President Richard von Weizsäcker and former British Minister of State Lord Simon to "identify institutional problems which needed to be tackled and to present arguments indicating why they needed to be dealt with by the IGC". Their report[42], presented on 18 October, is not a document which is formally subject to Parliamentary scrutiny, but we have considered it because of its relevance to the enquiry[43].

61. The report notes that the Amsterdam institutional protocol[44] envisaged a two-stage approach to institutional reform: "a limited reform before the first enlargement, a comprehensive reform before the number of Member States exceeded twenty". It suggests that "positive developments in the accession process since Amsterdam have blurred this distinction", and that therefore "an effort at comprehensive reform should be undertaken right now". It accepts the deadline of concluding the IGC by the end of 2000 as "imperative", but nevertheless "advises a somewhat broader agenda" (suggesting that this need not prolong the process if the IGC based its discussions on a proposal from the Commission).

62. The report therefore proposes that:

  • as well as considering the size and composition of the Commission, the IGC should consider strengthening the authority of the Commission President and clarifying the individual responsibility of Commissioners;
  • the extension of qualified majority voting contemplated in Amsterdam should be extended to second and third pillar matters; for the first pillar, it should be accompanied by a parallel increase in the role of the European Parliament through the extension of co-decision ;
  • a rule should be agreed on how to allocate seats in the European Parliament to Member States once the upper limit of 700 MEPs[45] is reached;
  • the IGC should consider suggestions put forward for the reform of other institutions;
  • the question of external representation of the EU "should be revisited";
  • the procedure for flexibility[46] laid down in the Treaty should be simplified.

63. The report notes other areas which it recognises as important but where it has no specific proposals (like the re-weighting of votes), or where it considers that proposals would be premature (like the Council's method of functioning and the European Parliament's working methods). It considers that any necessary reforms which do not require Treaty changes should be considered at the same time as those which do, "so as to make a comprehensive reform effective".

64. The report also proposes that, in order to speed up the process of Treaty changes in future, the present texts should be divided into two parts. The "basic Treaty" would include only "the aims, principles and general policy orientation, citizens' rights and the institutional framework"; those clauses would be subject to the current procedure of modification through an IGC with ratification by each Member State. The remaining clauses could be modified by a decision of the Council and the assent of the European Parliament. And it suggests that the IGC should also consider the need for new steps on the common policy on security and defence, because the new institutional arrangements which that will entail might require Treaty changes.

65. The report recognises that agreement of this entire package on the necessary timescale is an ambitious goal, but concludes:

    "At this crucial moment in its development the European Union should not lower its sights. It should rise to the challenge and formulate ambitions commensurate with that challenge".

29   These are the documents on which this enquiry is based. Back

30   Subsequent quotations in this section attributed to Commissioner Prodi are from the same speech. Back

31   See paragraph 37 above. Back

32   Composite Paper, p 28. Back

33   Ibid, p 37. Back

34   Ibid, pp 29-30. Back

35   Ibid, p 31Back

36   Ibid, p 30-31. Back

37   Ibid, p 31-32. Back

38   Ibid, p 1. Back

39   Ibid, p 2-3. Back

40   Ibid, p 34. According to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, these Agreements would be offered "once these countries meet the EU's conditions on human rights, economic reform and democratic principles, and demonstrate their commitment to regional co-operation" (p 26). Back

41   Ibid, pp 34-35.  Back

42   The Institutional Implications of Enlargement, Report to the European Commission, 18 October 1999. Back

43   Our comments are at paragraph 99. Back

44   See paragraph 49 above. Back

45   Specified in Article 189 EC. Back

46   An important innovation of the Amsterdam Treaty was to introduce flexibility clauses allowing a core of Member States to establish closer co-operation using the institutions, procedures and mechanisms provided for in the EC Treaty and TEU. There are additional criteria for such co­operation under the First (Community) Pillar (Article 11 EC) and the Third (Intergovernmental) Pillar (Article 40 TEU). Back

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