On 8 November, the European Commission published its annual report on the progress of the 13 candidate states. Enlargement Commissioner Gunter Verheugen and Commission President Romano Prodi presented the progress reports to the European Parliament in Brussels.
Overall, the assessment results of reforms towards European Union accession in the candidate states were positive. Despite the acknowledged "remarkable progress" of the countries, their weakness in implementing the acquis was also pointed out.
The European Commission also adopted an "Enlargement Strategy Paper," which is to be submitted to the European Council. This paper proposed a method of dealing with transitional matters as well as a detailed road map for negotiations and accession of the candidates.
The accession criteria focused on three general aspects: political criteria, economic criteria and adoption, implementation and enforcement of the acquis.
With regard to the political criteria, the reports concluded that the strengthening of democratic institutions has improved. Still, corruption, human trafficking and protection of minority rights were seen as issues on which more effort is required. Turkey was singled out as the only country not fulfilling the political criteria and was encouraged to "translate its intentions concerning human rights into concrete measures."
Regarding economic criteria, the overall performance of the candidates was seen as good. Cyprus and Malta were singled out as the states that both have operational market economies and the ability to cope with competition from the EU market forces. Bulgaria and Romania, on the other hand, were said to have neither of these in any effective manner or form.
The adoption, implementation and enforcement of the acquis were deemed to be "uneven, not least because of an ongoing weakness of administrative capacities in the candidate countries."
The Commission, on the basis of the progress to date, outlined its strategy for moving the enlargement process forward in the "Strategy Paper." On one hand, the EC discussed measures concerning the negotiation process. Changes in the method of the opening of the chapters were proposed so that those chapters of the Helsinki group could be opened more rapidly. Criteria regarding the evaluation of transitional demands of candidate states were also put forward.
On the other hand, the Commission proposed a road map for the accession of individual candidate states. This will concentrate on setting the priorities for negotiation and the implementation of accession criteria.
Also, it embodied the "principle of differentiation," which would allow for "negotiations with well-prepared countries to advance rapidly." The need for a "clear perspective" for enlargement was stressed. Thus, the most advanced candidate states were seen to be able to conclude negotiations with the EU in 2002. However, the earliest the programme allows accession is the beginning of 2004.
In addition to the Strategy Paper, Romano Prodi pointed out two other factors concerning speedy and effective EU enlargement. The first was an agreement on and implementation of institutional reform within the union, and the second was the need for "democratic support."
In other words, a public information campaign regarding the implications of the process. It was stressed that there has to be a general understanding of the repercussions of enlargement for member states, candidate states and neighbours and allies of the union alike.
EU to liberalise trade with Croatia
On 8 November, the European Commission and the Republic of Croatia started talks on the liberalisation of trade for textile products. The agreement pertains mainly to the elimination of quantitative restrictions the EU applied to Croatian textile and clothing exports beginning on 1 January 2001.
This agreement was seen as beneficial to both the EU and Croatia. It was established that Croatia will not increase its custom duties currently imposed on EU imports. In addition, it will remove tariffs on textile and clothing products as rapidly as possible. Thus, the agreement is expected to enhance imports of the European textile and clothing industry.
Croatia committed to harmonise its standards and regulations on clothing and textile with those of the EU. Moreover, the 11 most sensitive products of the industry will be subject to double checking or licensing, so that circumvention of the trade is avoided.
Therefore, the agreement has positive results for the Croatian textile and clothing industry, because industry standards will improve. Last year, Croatian textile and clothing exports to the EU comprised a quarter of the country's trade with the Union, or EUR 495 million. EU exports to Croatia, on the other hand, were 11.4 per cent of its total exports or EUR 458 million.
Overall, the agreement was seen as an indication of the European Council's decision last September to enhance the stabilisation process in the region through "trade liberalisation." Also, the agreement has encouraged regional economic co-operation.
EU candidate status for Serbia?
Following the change in the international status of Serbia and Croatia, the Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS) proposed a new EU policy toward South East Europe. An early candidate status for Serbia was seen as the most viable long term option for stabilising and integrating the region.
In Brussels on 6 November, the CEPS and the Serbian Centre for Policy Studies organized a conference entitled "A European Agenda for a Democratic Serbia." Here, two scenarios for EU policy towards Serbia were outlined.
Firstly, a "jump start" for Serbia and a "change of gear" for the EU was proposed. Under this plan, Serbia would undertake to achieve immediate radical reforms, monetary stabilisation and maximum openness to the EU, which would be accompanied by early EU candidacy and the rapid clean up of governance.
The Union would provide quick and sufficient financial and economic support for Serbia, while giving the country an early candidate status with a long pre-accession period. This would entail new, more inclusive pre-accession policies as well as a revision of the Stabilisation and Association Agreement and the Stability Pact.
The second scenario outlined a "messy transition" for Serbia and a "long queue" for EU candidacy. Here the transition of powers and the economic recovery of the country would be slow and vulnerable to reversal processes. Criminal interest groups would remain entrenched in the economy. The EU's attitude would result in delays and inconsistencies. Free trade between Serbia and the Union would be possible in ten years, but candidate status would not be deemed a feasible political option.
Obviously, the CEPS's position was clearly behind the first scenario. Despite implying greater commitment, greater effort and flexibility on behalf of the EU, the CEPS pointed out that, in the long term, the fist scenario would be in the interest of the Union.
It was argued the first scenario would ensure effective regional stability and cooperation, and integration into the EU framework would be facilitated. The second scenario pointed to the dangers of regional development, should the Union fail to review its current position on South East Europe.
Ivana Gogova, 10 November 2000
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