EU meets candidates at Sochaux
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Foreign ministers from all EU member states and candidate countries are meeting on 22 November in Sochaux, France to discuss the Union's reforms before enlargement takes place.
The conference is aimed at discussing institutional reforms that will be necessary for the efficient operation of an enlarged union. Despite the presence of candidate countries' ministers at the present conference, reform will be agreed on by EU leaders at the Nice Summit next month.
At the moment, officials from the 13 candidate countries are urging the EU to keep one commissioner per member state. The Commission's concern on the other hand is "to maintain the institution's decision-making capacity after enlargement and to preserve collective responsibility." In this way, introducing a rotation system based on the principle of equality is seen as a feasible option in the short to medium term as well.
However, the Commission has proposed reforms aimed at strengthening the powers of the EU President. Thus issues of representation through commissioners might in fact become less relevant.
Officials from Iceland, Norway and Switzerland also attended the European Conference as observers.
EU Balkan summit
On 24 November, in Zagreb, EU leaders met government officials from Albania, Bosnia-Hercegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Yugoslavia and Slovenia. The central theme of the summit was discussing ways of the region's recovery and the role of the EU in this process. Both the President of the Commission, Romano Prodi, and Commissioner Chris Patten are attending the meeting.
All of the Balkan countries but Slovenia are currently benefiting from the EU's Stabilization and Association process. This program is part of the Southeast European Stability Pact, initiated on 10 June last year, largely as a consequence of the Kosovo conflict. Moreover, the EU is to officially announce nearly EUR five billion additional aid for the region over the 2000 to 2006 period. At the same time, the Stabilization and Association process is an implicit and somewhat vague promise for EU membership sometime in the future.
In return for this financial assistance, the countries under the Stabilization and Association process have to show clear commitment to sustained reform, democratic standards and international obligations. The greatest emphasis, however, is on regional cooperation which is considered crucial for the rehabilitation of the region. Obviously, EU's strategy for these countries is to ensure recovery and stabilization through regional integration and cooperation.
The greatest incentive for regional cooperation is the prospect of European integration and eventually membership in the European family. In this respect, the presence of Slovenia at the summit as not only a former Yugoslav republic but a progressive EU candidate is indicative of the Union's foreign policy in Southeast Europe.
However, the recent resurgence of conflict between Yugoslavia and (what is so far termed) "Albanian terrorists" casts the EU's attempt to "tame" the area in a new light of doubt.
Turkey criticizes EU over membership criteria
In a speech to parliamentary deputies, Turkey's prime minister, Bulent Ecevit, strongly criticized the EU for the late amendment to his country's criteria for membership. He accused the Union of not keeping up with its promises on accession conditionality. However, he did not withdraw Turkey's candidacy for EU membership.
Ecevit's reaction came as a result of late EU demands placed on Turkey. These were agreed on in the European Parliament shortly after France made similar claims with regards to Turkey. The Union insisted that Turkey acknowledged the genocide of its Armenian population in 1915 and that it removed its "occupation forces" from Northern Cyprus.
Turkey's criticism was based on an EU promise not to involve a resolution on the Cyprus or Aegean problems with Greece in the accession negotiations or membership criteria. Mr Ecevit did not withdraw Turkey's membership bid in the hope that this controversial resolution will be revised when the approval of the resolution takes place next month.
Candidates to contribute to RRF
Contributions from all 13 candidate countries have been offered for the EU new Rapid Reaction Force (RRF). The RRF is to deal with a range of tasks from peacekeeping and humanitarian intervention to separating warring fractions and evacuation, when deemed necessary. Out of the accession states, Turkey was the only country to give definite numbers of its pledge (6000 troops, eight warships, two combat and two transportation aircraft), which was seen as rather large.
Turkey's contribution was a direct expression of concerns over the command structure of the RRF. As a NATO member that is not part of the EU, it is contributing significantly towards the RRF. Only Britain, France, Germany and Italy have made larger claims so far. Thus Turkey is afraid that its level of involvement in the RRF will be incommensurable with its level of participation in the decision-making process.
In light of the position of Turkey and the other participating countries in the same situation (the Czech Republic, Hungary, Iceland, Norway and Poland), Alain Richard, the French Defense Minister holding the EU rotating presidency at the moment, said that non-EU NATO members will be fully consulted. Still, it would be the EU taking the decisions regarding the operation of RRF, he stressed.
Meanwhile, NATO's reaction to the EU common defense initiative was rather positive. Its view has so far not been undermined by usual British skeptics, who pointed out that the RRF would in fact weaken the North Atlantic alliance.
Ivana Gogova, 24 November 2000
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