Verheugen: greater urgency needed to address problems

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Series Details Vol.7, No.41, 8.11.01, p16
Publication Date 08/11/2001
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Date: 08/11/01

By David Cronin

MOST candidate states need to reform their political and judicial authorities with greater urgency, enlargement chief Günter Verheugen will warn next week.

Presenting his annual report on the state of the accession talks on Tuesday (13 November), the German commissioner plans to underline that the former communist states, in particular, still have a long way to go in adapting their institutions to the standards required by the Union. "The overall message will be that some of these countries have a weak administrative capacity and that it is necessary to reinforce their judicial systems," said a Verheugen aide. "The problem of former communist society is that their institutions weren't built to deal with a market economy. "We'll be emphasising why they need a change their management culture and administrative culture."

Many passages in the report are expected to mirror those in the verdict on the enlargement talks delivered by the European Parliament in September. MEPs then identified a lack of qualified judges in Latvia, the unsatisfactory rate of progress in combating cronyism in Romania's civil service and the limited results so far yielded by a Czech anti-corruption campaign as major problems bedevilling the enlargement process. Verheugen is, however, keen to avoid disillusioning any of the applicants, especially at a time when opinion polls show that the number of people hostile to enlargement is rising in the EU and its prospective members.

Earlier this week he was at pains to avoid giving the impression that the Commission is ranking the applicants. He is also anxious to avoid a repetition of the disquiet engendered in Prague last year because the report for 2000 said the Czech Republic, unlike Hungary or Poland, could not be regarded as a functioning market economy. "It would be completely wrong to read the report as a list of problems," he added. The report will also be upbeat about the overall progress made, reiterating the points made in the declaration issued by EU leaders at June's Göteborg summit. It stated that accession talks with the most advanced states should be concluded by the end of 2002, so they can join the Union in time to participate in the summer of 2004 European Parliament election. "We see no need to propose a new roadmap at this stage," remarked one official.

The Commission's determination to 'accentuate the positive' on the entire process was emphasised by its president Romano Prodi last week. In an interview with Italian weekly Espresso, he said: "Enlargement will not be a day late. There is no element of doubt about this. I bet my mandate, position and reputation on it." Privately many EU insiders are more pessimistic. They point out that the talks could encounter severe difficulties next year, when some of the trickiest issues are discussed. Chief among these will be how Poland's agricultural workforce of more than 7.5 million people, bigger than that of any of the 15 existing member states, can adapt to modernisation without causing a social crisis.

Although the report was drafted before last weekend's threat by Turkey to annex northern Cyprus, some MEPs are likely to allude to it in the debate following Verheugen's address. UK Liberal Sarah Ludford this week criticised both Verheugen and Prodi for deciding not to meet Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktas during their recent visit to the divided island. Ludford, who has had recent talks with Denktas, contended that the Union needs to use the accession process to create an "environment for political bridge-building towards a settlement" in Cyprus, one of the front runners in the enlargement race.

Preview of the European Commission's annual report on the state of the accession talks, due to be presented by Enlargement Commissioner Günter Verheugen on 13 November 2001.

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