Could perceptions and attitudes
delay the accession process?
147. When we asked witnesses from the first wave
Central and Eastern European applicant States what they saw as
the greatest single problem in achieving accession, we expected
answers in terms of particular issues where the acquis
seemed unacceptable, or where significant transition periods would
be needed. Points of that kind were indeed made, but we were particularly
struck by Dr Gottfried's comment that "the single most important
issue of enlargement today is to have a proper public perception
of [the] consequences" (Q 39). We would suggest that perceptions
of the process are also important, and we therefore considered
148. In its written evidence, the Polish Government
pointed out: "Enlargement is not charityit is in the
self-interest of the existing members too" (p 1). Interestingly,
Mr van der Pas used exactly the same expression:
"We certainly do not do this as an act of
charity and I think I should stress that. If you look at the advantages
which will come our way as a consequence of enlargement they are
quite massive" (Q 101).
As the Hungarian Government said: "The enlargement
of the EU is in the common interest of all European nations, creating
better opportunities for progress and prosperity in every corner
of the continent" (p 10). So why do the applicants sometimes
feel like the recipients of charity?
149. Mr Alan Mayhew (Senior Fellow at Sussex University)
has suggested that that "the EU is approaching this enlargement
in a colonial spirit".
He describes the Accession Partnerships as "not partnerships
but unilaterally imposed conditions
Without agreement there
can be no commitment". He suggests that the EU is trying
to squeeze the applicants into a "perfect west-European mould",
without considering their diversity and their existing links with
150. Our witnesses gave some support to this view,
albeit in milder language. Reading between the lines, we sensed
that the process of "assessment" by the Commission is
not seen as entirely appropriate in a negotiating situation. All
the first wave applicants have their own national plans for the
adoption of the acquis, and they preferred to see the changes
being made as part of their own processes of economic and social
transformation rather than as being imposed from outside.
151. There is also a suggestion that the Commission
may be trying, as Mr Juri put it, to introduce "into this
negotiation some political issues which are not part of the acquis
communautaire" (Q 50), desirable as they may be in themselves.
Dr Gottfried instanced reform of the health care system (QQ 33-34),
and it has also been suggested that the emphasis on nuclear safety
goes further than is required by the acquis (though it
is evident that the Commission does not accept this).
Mr Juri feared that the introduction of such additional issues
could "stop or slow down the negotiation despite the fact
that we are carrying out very quickly and with all our willingness
and energy the harmonisation [required of us]" (Q 50).
152. This feeling of being required to comply with
fiats from outside was expressed forcefully in Mr Ananicz's
written evidence, when he said that there were
"questions which were yet to be cleared
which relate to the very nature of a Union we are about
to join. The questions which remain unanswered include those about
subsidiarity, flexibility and the areas where it may be applied,
the attitude of Brussels centralism to regionalism, and the evolution
of the Union's identity in the realm of security, as well as its
impact on the EU's relations with NATO" (p 2).
In particular, the position on CAP had not been negotiated,
but was the outcome of financial decisions currently in force.
"Whenever we declare our interest in holding
consultations or providing our views, we hear that there exist
appropriate fora for dialogue, which we should use. Although we
have at our disposal the so-called structural dialogue and the
European Conference, we are not in the business of forcing through,
in those fora, our favourite solutions. We know the club rules.
These are laid down by members, and members alone. What we would
simply like is to know where the discussion is heading, and what
solution options are being contemplated" (p 2).
153. It does seem that applicants need at the very
least to be kept informed of what is going on. Mr Vaz commented
on the basis of his recent visit to Poland that "one of the
things they very much wanted was to get as much information as
possible and there was a feeling that they would read about enlargement
in the newspapers long after decisions had been made" (Q
154. But we would go further: there should surely
be a two-way process whereby applicants not only receive information
but have the opportunity to express their views. The House of
Commons Foreign Affairs Committee were told by all the applicant
states they visited that there was a lack of formal mechanisms
for applicants to do this in relation to EU institutional and
policy developments, even though they would have to accept them
when they acceded. Their Report observes that:
"Through the public pronouncements of its
officials and Ministers of Member State governments, and through
the attitude of EU negotiators, the impression is often given
that the EU is a club with immutable rules which applicants should
not seek to influence".
Mr Vaz seemed to bear this out when he said that
the Government thought that for one of the first wave applicants
to join the negotiations as to what the European Union would look
like after 2002 "would not be sensible, but we certainly
feel that they should be kept informed fully of the changes that
we are bound to make" (Q 66). We think that it can reasonably
be argued that the applicants should not only be kept informed
but should have a voice in matters which will affect them so crucially.
Mr van der Pas agreed that there must be a forum in which the
applicant countries "can be informed and be listened to in
terms of the IGC", even though "they cannot co-decide
as long as they are not members" (Q 115).
155. There is a question of whether the mechanism
for this already exists. The Hungarian Government says that it
is "ready to share its views on institutional matters in
the framework of existing fora of dialogue between the EU and
the associated countries" (p 11). The Polish Government obviously
considers the existing fora inadequate.
156. That the applicants should be kept informed
of what is going on within the EU seems a modest request. But
we would go further. It does not seem unreasonable to suggest
that applicants might usefully be involved in discussionsif
not in decisionson matters which will have a major effect
on them when they join. We urge the Government to press for this,
perhaps even by seeking observer status for them at the IGC.
157. Another example of attitudes which may make
accession difficult for the applicants to swallow is the requirement
that they should break off their relationships with other States
which will not be acceding to the EU (or at least not yet). Alan
Mayhew highlighted to the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee
the danger that "by forcing the applicants to cut their close
economic and political relations with neighbouring countries,
the EU will create new divides in Europe, which are totally unnecessary".
As an example, Mr Juri told us that Slovenia had free trade agreements
with Croatia and Macedonia from which it was being pressed to
withdraw, in return for a guarantee that the EU would liberalise
its trade régime with the Balkan area (Q 55); his government
was seeking a ten-year transition period until the promised new
approach was in place (p 18). The problem would solve itself if
the States concerned actually acceded to the EU at the same time
(as may happen for the Czech Republic and Slovakia). But there
are other cases (such as Poland and the Ukraine, or Estonia and
the other Baltic States) where that solution will not be
158. Existing relations may also suggest that it
would be sensible for applicants to accede in groups, rather than
individually. Mr van der Pas agreed that "there are countries
that have rather strong links and if you let them in separately
at different times the existing links might be broken". Looking
at the example of the Czech Republic and Slovakia, he thought
that "when the moment comes for final decisions we cannot
possibly tell those countries to break down what they have built
up together; we will have to find some sort of solution which
allows this relationship to continue". If the Czech Republic
joined first, Slovakia's special relationship with it would have
to be replaced by one with the EU. "The last thing we want
by being generous in terms of enlarging the European Union is
that we will be erecting all sorts of new barriers in Europe"
159. It would create a particularly unfortunate
impression in the difficult situation of the Balkans if the EU
were to require that applicant States should sever their existing
economic and political relations with neighbouring States. We
would urge that proper accommodation should be found.
160. Public perceptions depend partly on the substance
of what is being perceived, so the points discussed above might
improve the view of the process in the applicant States. But they
also depend on presentation. The Hungarian Government told us
that it had launched a communication programme in 1995 to increase
public awareness on EU matters, and that accession was "widely
supported" (p 11), but it nevertheless saw a need for the
Commission to mount an information campaign on the subject.
161. The need to raise public consciousness is not
confined to the applicant States. The Estonian Government suggested
that "more efforts must be put into preparing the EU public
for the upcoming enlargement", because a recent survey in
existing Member States had revealed the dominant view that "while
enlargement will result in clear political and security gains,
these gains will be mitigated by the economic implications. If
this view persists, it will be increasingly difficult to make
the adjustments that need to be madenot just in terms of
enlargement, but also those that are vital to the Union"
162. This is a real danger. We note that in a survey
earlier this year only 27 per cent of people in the EU15 regarded
"welcoming new Members" as a priority for the EU. The
average level of support for the applicant States' joining was
42 per cent; in the United Kingdom support was 40 per cent, but
others showed significantly lower support (Germany 38 per cent,
France 33 per cent and Austria only 29 per cent)
163. We note from their report
that the "three wise men" discussed the need for "more
simplicity and clarity in the governance of European affairs,
more transparency, flexibility and accountability in the way the
institutions work". We agree with them that "the fact
that most Europeans do not understand the working of our institutions
must surely be a problem governments should consider". But
we do not agree that this is "not directly linked to enlargement".
As they recognise, "the citizens of new Member States will
be even more puzzled than those of Member States who have lived
through half a century of European integration"; the EU must
find ways of connecting or re-connecting to the people".
164. Mr van der Pas was conscious that enlargement
had not yet become front page news. He recognised a need to "turn
to the citizens both in the applicant countries and in the European
Union to explain in much more detail what it is all about"
(Q 111). But, he asked:
"How do you do that? Can we in the European
Commission start travelling through the Member States with bus
loads of officials in order to sound the trumpet about the virtues
of European integration? Is that what we should do? I doubt it
very much" (Q 112).
Instead, the Commission must encourage both the Member
States and the applicants to issue their own information about
the consequences of enlargement, both positive and negative (Q
165. We agree that the EU must find ways of getting
across the message of the potential benefits of enlargement. We
are not convinced by the applicant States' suggestions that an
information campaign mounted by the Commission would by itself
have the desired effect. But we believe that if governments in
the existing Member States do favour enlargement, then they must
translate that political will into action as well as words.