|Series Title||European Voice|
|Series Details||21/12/95, Volume 1, Number 14|
FOR the dozen countries waiting on the European Union's doorstep, 1995 has been a year of mixed signals.
As the difficulties of expanding became clearer in the final months of the year, enthusiasm for enlargement seems to have waned (except for the endless energy of German Chancellor Helmut Kohl).
In speech after speech, Commissioners and officials began raising the spectre of huge costs and diplomats began criticising the emptiness of 'structured dialogue' meetings between EU and applicants, designed to prepare the ground for their accession.
Several diplomats said there was little concrete talk in the first half of the year of the strategy needed to pave the way for enlargement, or of its implications for existing EU members. September's informal EU summit in Majorca, convened in part to discuss a future, larger Union, did not advance the discussion much, according to participants. Since then, the subject has taken on more urgency, but, as one German diplomat said: “The problems have been highlighted, not the advantages.”
Union members have always stressed the importance of getting their own house in order before they open the door to new members.
In March, EU governments agreed to begin membership talks with Cyprus and Malta six months after the conclusion of next year's Intergovernmental Conference (IGC), although no one yet knows when it will end. However, EU leaders remain divided over whether all Central and Eastern European countries and the Baltic states should be allowed to begin membership talks at the same time as Cyprus and Malta.
Chancellor Kohl has said that those countries closest to being ready for admission need not wait for their less advanced neighbours to catch up. He has pressed for an undertaking that Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary will begin talks at the same time as Malta and Cyprus.
But others argue that all the Central and Eastern European applicants should begin talks together, and the negotiations themselves will sort out the quick joiners from the slow.
France's European Affairs Minister Michel Barnier said last month that enlargement negotiations with the east should start in 1998. But that assumes the IGC will end in 1997, and this year's signals from the UK that it is preparing to take a tough line in the treaty talks have not been comforting for those who are hoping for a quick end to the IGC.
Other serious hurdles will also have to be overcome - and they seem to have been growing since October, when the Commission was embarrassed by the leak of a document calculating that to take in 12 applicant countries at the same time could add some 38 billion ecu per year to spending on the structural funds.
But when she unveiled her White Paper on the impact of enlargement on structural policies, Regional Policy Commissioner Monika Wulf-Mathies was very careful to steer clear of any mention of figures, pointing out that her terms of reference had been much less precise than those handed to Agriculture Commissioner Franz Fischler for the preparation of his report.
Wulf-Mathies is very conscious of the concern felt by the four countries who currently receive money from the Cohesion Funds that enlargement could endanger what remains a very major source of finance for their relatively backward economies.
She insisted that Spain, Portugal, Greece and Ireland would not suffer as a result of enlargement and that the EU would have to review the workings and financing of the structural funds in 1999 anyway, regardless of the prospects for enlargement.
But this view may have to be revised, particularly in light of the fact that the whole land area of the applicant countries would meet the existing criteria for 'Objective 1' status.
Fischler's White Paper on the implications of enlargement for the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) concluded that to apply the existing CAP to the new countries would add 9 billion ecu to spending in 2000, rising to 12 billion ecu by 2010.
The Commission's favoured solution is for what it describes as a continuation of the path of reform begun in 1992 by former Agriculture Commissioner Ray MacSharry. To most people, this means further reform, even if the Commission prefers, for political reasons, to dress it up in other terms.
Initial discussions of Fischler's ideas have at least revealed a degree of realism among member states that something has to change if the Union is to respect its political commitment to expansion. But the general consensus - with the exception of the CAP's biggest opponents, the UK and Sweden - is that “a period of reflection” is needed before anything more solid is put down on paper.
As is the tradition among highly-conservative EU agriculture ministers, real progress towards change will only come about once there is no alternative. Experts point to the last two years of the decade as the most likely time for the real hard talking to begin.
The recent success of a bloc of countries, led by France and Germany, in watering down plans to improve access to the EU market for Central and Eastern European farm produce shows the difficulty the Commission will face in persuading member states to back up their positive words with real action.
Many are waiting for 1997 and a special Commission study which will paint a more-detailed picture of the likely impact of expanding the Union to take in the applicant countries and show current contributors how much enlargement could cost them. French diplomats have said serious talks can only begin after a look at the budget.
There was, however, some good news in 1995 for EU candidate countries. The Baltic states took a step towards membership. With their Europe Agreements approved by the European Parliament, they were welcomed into the structured dialogue in October, and on 11 December Lithuania became the last of the three to formally apply for membership.
The Commission also remained undeterred when elections in many applicant countries brought Communists back to power.
While officials remain concerned about human rights abuses in Slovakia, they support Hungarian, Bulgarian and Romanian drives for market reform, and are very positive about the Czech Republic's chances of quick entry into the Union.
Kohl has said at least three Eastern European states will be in membership talks by the year 2000. But even if they are, membership itself is likely to come more slowly than the German chancellor would like.
|Subject Categories||Politics and International Relations|
|Countries / Regions||Eastern Europe, Turkey|