German industry concerned with labour migration
Last week the German Association of Chambers of Industry and Commerce (DIHT) produced a position paper on European Union institutional reform and enlargement. The most important issue pertaining to the process of enlargement was the DIHT's demand for transition periods for the movement of Eastern European workers after the accession of candidates.
President of DIHT Peter Stihl stressed that countries could only be accepted to the EU after they had done their "homework." In light of the association's interests and concerns, emphasis was placed on EU technical regulations and standards, and on achieving significant economic development. Consequently, Stihl pointed out that Poland might not join together with the Czech Republic and Hungary if it lags behind them with regards to the latter conditions.
In light of the prospective members' conditions after accession, different transition periods for the movement of labour should be imposed, Stihl argued. Nevertheless, it is not clear how any such decisions would be made given that the criteria for accession is presumably uniform for all candidate states.
Partly as a response to recent debates between Austria and the Czech Republic on nuclear energy safety, Peter Stihl openly stated that forcing the reforming states to abandon nuclear energy is absurd. He also pointed out that it was the EU's responsibility to spend more money on increasing nuclear safety.
As to the hotly debated issue of accession dates, the association reiterated that early enlargement is exclusively dependent on the EU's ability to implement the appropriate institutional reforms as quickly and efficiently as possible.
Despite the argument that candidates should be considered on an individual basis, DIHT seemed concerned with, and somewhat anxious about, the immediate repercussions of enlargement on German industry.
France dispels hopes for early enlargement
France categorically refused to set any dates for enlargement. The French EU Presidency made it clear that no accession targets will be presented at the intergovernmental conference in Nice, this December. Thus, the hopes for an early enlargement of many candidate states, especially the ones from the first wave of negotiations, were abruptly dispelled for the first time.
French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine said on 17 October in Versailles that "demagogical promises, made to certain candidate countries, are one of the problems in the enlargement."
Vedrine stressed that all candidates should concentrate on internal reforms to bring their economies and legislation up to EU level, rather than trying to negotiate entry dates. He backed up France's position by pointing to the fact that no target dates have been set when previous enlargement has been taking place.
Obviously, the EU has been trying to steer away from the explicit "carrot and stick" policy towards its candidate countries, but admission target dates are of utter importance for domestic politics in the prospective member states. Some have even argued that lack of target dates may prove detrimental to the speed of and commitment to reform in candidate countries.
Thus, the tension between member states and candidate countries, with regards to accession timetables, has been further exacerbated. The implications of this may not be favourable to the enlargement process as a whole.
Fischer: first group to join by 2005
On 17 October in Frankfurt, German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer told his Polish colleague that he wanted the first group of EU candidates to join at the beginning of 2005, or even earlier if possible.
He also stressed the need for clear timetables on the next stages of enlargement. At his meeting with Polish Foreign Minister Wladyslaw Bartoszewski, Fisher agreed that Poland's desire for greater predictability of the accession process through an EU outline was understandable, saying: "The EU should draw up a timetable as quickly as possible showing the most important stages to come in the process."
Once again, Germany's response to the debate on enlargement dates has revealed the lack of consensus on the issue among member states. So far, there have been statements coming out from Britain, France, Germany and the EU.
Enlargement Commissioner Günter Verheugen has been most optimistic, pointing to 2003 as a realistic date for enlargement. British Prime Minister Tony Blair said two weeks ago in Warsaw that he expected first accessions in 2004. France, however, has been the only country to openly express unwillingness to set target dates.
Hopefully, the EU summit in Nice could provide the necessary forum for dealing with inconsistencies on the future of the union among member states.
Pro-enlargement public opinion in candidate countries
Public opinion polls conducted in Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic revealed stable support for EU enlargement. The results were presented and discussed at a conference on the role of public opinion in the enlargement process in Brussels on 17 October.
The conference, dealing mainly with the implications of public opinion for the EU institutions and industry, brought together representatives from EU institutions, member and candidate countries alike, industry, non-governmental organizations and media, and public opinion experts.
This recent poll was prepared by the Central European Opinion Research Group (CEORG) which was also the conference organiser. The results showed that support for EU enlargement currently stands at 51 percent in the Czech Republic, 55 percent in Poland and 69 percent in Hungary. On the whole, it seemed that the Czech Republic was most skeptical about EU accession, but this trend was seen to be deteriorating.
It was also contended that the current results are rather favourable, especially when compared to attitudes towards enlargment in member states such as Austria, Denmark, Finland, France, Sweden and the United Kingdom.
Nevertheless, the validity of the attitudes in member states was challenged by some on the basis of the wording of the questions on EU enlargement. The fact that enlargement had to be compared with more immediate issues such as unemployment and organized crime was highlighted. At the conference, some results of the deceptively straightforward pubic opinion polls were implicitly challenged by divergent interest groups.
Ivana Gogova, 21 October 2000
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