The EU on the eve of eastern enlargement: The European Convention should seize the opportunity to introduce reforms

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Series Details No.12, 2002
Publication Date December 2002
ISSN 0343-754X
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This paper puts forward concrete proposals for changes to the Treaties, which are essential if the enlarged Union is to function. It concludes that the EU is ill-prepared for the entry of less prosperous countries with predominantly agricultural economies, because fundamental reform of the EU policies that affect the budget is still largely overdue. In addition, the entry of a large number of new members will require fundamental reform of the decision-making rules in the EU. The responsibility for this lies with the Convention on the future of Europe, which is entrusted with making proposals for redrafting the basic treaties.

The fear of an explosive increase in spending as a result of eastern enlargement of the EU is unfounded. Reforms of the particularly cost-intensive agricultural and structural policies are nevertheless needed, e.g. to avoid the waste of resources and to release funds for new tasks, such as security policy. The decisions taken at the Brussels Summit in October 2002 will make enlargement possible, but they do little to prepare the EU for this. Reforms were not agreed. After new members join and are fully integrated in the range of agricultural policy instruments, the reforms will be much more difficult to achieve. The cost to agricultural policy of enlarging the EU by ten members is now met without notable contributions from the present recipients. The simple trick of allowing inflation indexing of the agricultural budget serves this purpose. The central objective of the net payers, to link enlargement with reforms, has thus not been achieved. On the contrary, the signals are now set for adjustment of the direct payments to the price trend.

As the Council was not prepared or not able to carry out reforms, the responsibility now lies with the Convention. In concrete terms it should first propose that the objective of securing farmers' incomes, which is laid down in the EC Treaty, should be abolished. Secondly, the EC Treaty should lay down that the EU's structural policy is to be concentrated on the member states with a clearly under-average per capita GDP. Thirdly, the rules on decision-making in the Council under the Nice Treaty are counterproductive. The 'double majority' procedure should be instigated, allowing decisions to be taken if they are supported by a majority of the member states that represent a majority of the EU population. Fourthly, the possibility must be created in the treaties for EU policies to be developed further even if opposed by a small, blocking minority. That will require dropping the need for unanimity for amendments to the treaties in most cases. If these proposals were implemented the EU would be able to adjust to the entry of many new members with low per capita incomes and large agricultural sectors much better than it can today.

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