Commission sets out an ambitious accession strategy and proposes to open accession negotiations with six more candidate countries

Following the dramatic changes in Europe, particularly in the aftermath of the Kosovo crisis, the European Commission proposed today that accession negotiations should be opened with all remaining candidate countries that respect democracy, the rule of law, human rights and minorities – i.e. with Bulgaria, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Romania and Slovakia. However, these negotiations should follow a “differentiated” approach taking full account of each candidate’s progress in meeting the “Copenhagen criteria” set by the EU. These are the main elements of an ambitious strategy that the European Commission, at the initiative of Günter Verheugen, Commissioner for Enlargement, recommended to the European Council which will meet in Helsinki next December.Turkey should now be considered as a candidate countryn although there is no question of opening negotiations at this stage. In order to allow Turkey to benefit from candidate status, the Commission also proposed concrete actions as a means to stimulate in-depth reforms in this country and to promote respect for the Copenhagen political criteria. Moreover, the Commission called for a wider vision on the relations with countries of the former Yugoslavia and Albania on one hand, Russia, Ukraine, the Caucasus and Maghreb countries on the other hand. Finally, the Commission adopted the regular reports assessing the progress of each of the candidate countries as regards the Copenhagen criteria and proposed new Accession Partnerships for each candidate country, including Malta and Cyprus.

Commenting on the decision, Günter Verheugen, Commissionner for enlargement, said : “This strategy will help strike the right balance between two potentially conflicting objectives in the enlargement process : speed and quality. Speed is of the essence because there is a window of opportunity for enhanced momentum in the preparations for enlargement, in accordance with the expectations of the candidate countries. Quality is vital because the EU does not want partial membership, but new members exercising full rights and responsibilities”.

Opening accession negotiations with six other candidate countries

The crises in the Balkan region have created a new momentum in the enlargement process and have emphasised the essential contribution of European integration to peace and prosperity in Europe. Therefore, the EU should send a strong signal of its determination to assume its responsibilities.

- The Commission recommends that negotiations should be opened in 2000 with all candidate countries that fulfil the Copenhagen political criteria (democracy, the rule of law, human rights and respect for and protection of minorities) and have proved to be ready to take the necessary measures to comply with the economic criteria.. This means that in 2000 Bulgaria, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Romania and Slovakia should join the accession negotiations which started in 1998 with Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Poland and Slovenia.

However, in view of the paramount importance of nuclear safety, the opening of negotiations with Bulgaria should be conditional on a decision by the Bulgarian authorities before the end of 1999 on acceptable closure dates for units 1-4 in the Kozloduy nuclear power plant and upon a confirmation of the significant progress accomplished in the economic reform process.

The opening of negotiations with Romania should be conditional on the confirmation of effective action being taken by the Romanian authorities to provide adequate budgetary resources and to implement structural reform of childcare institutions before the end of 1999. It is also conditional upon a further assessment of the economic situation before negotiations are formally opened, in the expectation that appropriate measures will have been taken to address the macro-economic situation.

The principle of differentiation

The approach recommended by the Commission should in no case lead to a loss of momentum for reform in the candidate countries, and the EU must ensure that candidate countries fulfil all Copenhagen criteria before being admitted as Member States.

This is why negotiations with the candidate countries should follow a differentiated approach, allowing each candidate to progress through the negotiations as quickly as is warranted by its own efforts to prepare for accession. This means that, instead of opening an equal number of chapters for all candidates, the EU would decide to start negotiating on a particular chapter after an assessment of the progress made by the candidate in the relevant field in accordance with the Copenhagen criteria.

The strong link which must exist between the negotiations and the preparatory process will also be applied in the ongoing negotiations. The chapters already provisionally closed in the ongoing negotiations will be reviewed, as agreed, in order to allow due account to be taken of newly adopted acquis. Provisional closure of chapters will henceforth be decided taking full account of the result of negotiations and the degree to which candidates have fulfilled their commitments to make progress in their preparations for membership.

One of the advantages of this new procedure will be that each country will be able to proceed on merit, including the possibility for those who join the negotiations from 2000 to catch up with the others.

Transition periods

The difference between this and previous enlargements is that following the completion of the Single Market the EU operates without border restrictions. This is why the Commission proposes to clearly define its policy on transition periods for new Member States and to make a distinction between two cases :

- For the areas linked to the functioning of the Single Market, regulatory measures should be implemented quickly. Any transition periods should therefore be few and short.

- For those areas where considerable adaptations are necessary and which require substantial effort, including important financial outlays (in areas such as environment, energy, infrastructure), transition arrangements could be spread over a definite period of time provided candidates can demonstrate that alignment is underway and that they are committed to detailed and realistic plans for alignment, including the necessary investments.

Target dates : EU should be ready in 2002

The Commission welcomes the fact that some candidates have already set themselves target dates, thus expressing their determination to prepare for membership within a fixed time. Before the EU can consider setting target dates, it should first have a fuller assessment of each candidate’s situation both in terms of progress in the negotiations and in preparations for membership. Only then can the Union ensure that any target dates will be realistic.

In the meantime, the Commission recommends to the European Council in Helsinki to commit itself to be ready to decide from 2002 on the accession of candidates that fulfil all necessary criteria.

By that time, the three elements which are needed for the EU to be in a position to decide on the first accessions should be in place :

- Financial framework : the Commission recalls the conclusions of the European Council in Berlin, based on the working hypothesis of enlarging the EU during the period 2000-2006 and the Council’s decision to provide corresponding budgetary appropriations

- Institutional reform : the process of institutional reform must be oriented in such a way that the very substantial changes that are necessary as a condition for enlargement will be in force in 2002.

Conclusion of negotiations


Turkey has expressed its wish to be a candidate country and should now be considered as such. However, negotiations can only be opened once the political criteria are met. Meanwhile, the following steps should be taken, building on the European Strategy, to stimulate and support the reforms in Turkey :

- Enhancing political dialogue, with particular reference to the issue of human rights, and providing the option of association with the common positions and actions taken under the Common Foreign and Security Policy

- Co-ordinating all sources of EU financial assistance for pre-accession within a single framework

- The possibility for full participation in all EU programmes and agencies - Adopting an Accession Partnership combined with a National Programme for the adoption of the Acquis

- Establishing mechanisms similar to those which operate under the Europe Agreements to monitor implementation of the Accession Partnership

- With a view to harmonising Turkey’s legislation and practice, beginning a process of analytical examination of the acquis.

Regular reports : a critical and fair assessment

- All the recommendations are based on individual country reports which assess the progress the candidate countries have made in meeting the Copenhagen criteria .

As regards the political criteria :

The reports adopted today conclude that significant progress has been made notably by Slovakia with regard to the democracy criteria. Continuing attention needs to be paid to the reform of the childcare institutions in Romania, to the linguistic rights of minorities in the Estonia and Latvia, and to strengthening the judiciaries and the fight against corruption in all countries.

The Commission also stresses the need for further efforts to protect minority rights, particularly of the Roma population in many of the candidate countries.

Moreover, the Commission continues to consider that Turkey does not meet the political criteria for membership.

As regards the economic criteria :

- Progress can be noted in most countries and has already shown its importance in the face of external shocks. All candidates except Slovakia, Lithuania, Bulgaria and Romania are considered to be functioning market economies. Slovakia and Lithuania are close. Bulgaria has made substantial progress. The economic situation in Romania is very worrying and sustained efforts will be needed to put a unctioning market economy in place.

As regards progress with the legal and institutional preparations :

The reports show that progress varies significantly between candidate countries. Hungary, Latvia and Bulgaria maintained a fairly steady rhythm of legal approximation. Slovenia and Slovakia significantly increased their efforts. The pace of legislative work in Poland and the Czech Republic however remains sluggish.

Other elements of the strategy

Strategy for neighbouring countries

The Commission proposes to confirm the vocation for membership of countries of former Yugoslavia and Albania but under strict conditions. In addition to the Copenhagen criteria, these countries would be required to mutually recognise each other’s borders, settle all issues relating to the treatment of national minorities and pursue economic integration in a regional framework as a precondition for their integration in the EU.

Relations with Russia, Ukraine, the Caucasus and Maghreb countries are of strategic importance which extend far beyond trade and assistance programmes, and could be extended to the fight against organised crime and drug trafficking, migration or environmental policies.

Accession Partnerships

On the basis of the regular reports, the Commission has drawn up revised Accession Partnerships for each candidate country (with the exception of Turkey). They propose short and medium term priorities to be met in order to prepare for membership. The priorities will be decided by the Council. They also indicate the financial assistance available from the EU (over € 3 billion a year from 2000) in support of these priorities and the conditionality attached to that assistance.

PHARE guidelines

The Commission has also adopted new PHARE guidelines for 2000-2006. They confirm the programme’s focus on a limited number of pre-accession priorities, such as institution building and investment in regulatory infrastructure needed to ensure compliance with the acquis. They also take account of the implementation, as of next year, of the two other pre-accession instruments, ISPA (co-financing of investment in environmental and transport infrastructure) and SAPARD (support for agriculture and rural development). Finally, they will allow for greater interaction with EU initiatives in the border areas.


More details on the regular reports

The Copenhagen criteria

The reports assess the progress the candidate countries have made in meeting the “Copenhagen criteria”, i.e. the conditions set out at the European Council in Copenhagen in 1993 to become Member of the European Union. According to these criteria, membership requires that the candidate country :

- Has achieved stability of institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights, and respect for and protection of minorities,

- The existence of a functioning market economy as well as the capacity to cope with competitive pressures and market forces within the Union, and

- Has the ability to take on the obligations of membership, including adherence to the aims of political, economic and monetary Union

Political criteria

The reports show that the candidate countries of Central and Eastern Europe, and Slovakia in particular have generally continued to strengthen their democracies and the respect for human rights.

There are however exceptions. The situation of over 100,000 children in institutionalised care in Romania has seriously deteriorated, with the Government failing to act in time to ensure that adequate funding was provided for the children. This is an issue of human rights and the Romanian Government needs to continue to give it the political priority which it urgently requires.

All countries need to continue with their reforms of the judiciary and persevere in their fight to root out corruption. The treatment of minorities demands continued attention in all of the candidate countries. Estonia needs to ensure that its language legislation is implemented in such a way as to comply with international standards. Prejudice in many of the candidate countries continues to result in discrimination against the Roma in social and economic life. There has been little evolution of the situation in Turkey with regard to human rights and minority problems.

Economic criteria

This year’s assessment of the progress made in meeting the Copenhagen economic criteria takes place against the background of a world wide slowdown in growth in the aftermath of the Asian, Russian and Kosovo crises. Against this background, the average real GDP growth in 1998 for the ten central and eastern European countries was 2.2%.

Hungary and Poland, at 5.1% and 4.8% respectively, maintained the highest growth rates. The overall volume of foreign direct investment into the central European candidate countries increased in 1998 despite greater investor caution about emerging markets in general. Inflation was lower than expected. With the exception of Estonia and the Czech Republic, all of the central and eastern European candidate countries registered a widening of their trade and current account deficits in 1998 as a result of decline in external demand.

The existence of a market economy and ability to cope with competitive pressure

Concerning the economic conditions for membership, the Commission looked at whether the candidates are market economies which should be able to cope with competitive pressure over the medium term.

It finds that two of the candidates, Cyprus and Malta meet these criteria. Of the ten central and eastern European countries, Hungary and Poland come closest to meeting the criteria, followed by Slovenia and Estonia, and then the Czech Republic, which needs to make serious progress. Latvia has made significant progress in the past year and can now be added to this group. Slovakia has made important progress but needs to consolidate its reforms.

Lithuania’s progress over the past year has not been as strong as could have been expected and cannot yet be regarded as a fully functioning market economy or being in a position to cope with competitive pressure.

Bulgaria and Romania do not meet either economic criterion. Encouragingly, Bulgaria continues to make significant progress and shows sustained efforts in the economic reform process, but started from a very low level. Regrettably, the situation in Romania has, at best, stabilised compared with last year. Turkey has many of the characteristics of a functioning market economy but needs to continue to focus on achieving macroeconomic stability by reducing inflationary pressures, public deficits and by continuing structural reform.

Adoption of the acquis

Looking at progress in adopting the acquis, the Commission’s reports point out that all of the candidate countries have continued their efforts in legal approximation but progress varies significantly between candidate countries with some of the countries in negotiations showing lacklustre performance relative to those who are not.

In general, Hungary, Latvia, and Bulgaria have maintained a good pace of legislative approximation, with Hungary as well having developed a reasonably consistent track record in setting up and strengthening its institutions to implement and enforce the laws.

Latvia needs to devote serious attention to general public administration and judicial reform in order that the good record on legislative transposition is not marred by ineffective implementation.

Slovenia and Slovakia have stepped up significantly their efforts to put laws in place. Slovenia now faces a major challenge in actually setting up the many institutions foreseen in recently adopted laws. Slovakia needs to translate its policy decisions and recent legislative progress into concrete progress in reinforcing its administration and judiciary.

Estonia, Lithuania and Romania have a mixed record in legislative approximation, with good progress in certain areas offset by delays in others. The pace of transposition remains sluggish in Poland and the Czech Republic and progress in administrative strengthening has been sketchy, resulting in a situation where certain parts of the administration are well equipped to effectively implement EC laws while others have serious weaknesses. The capacities of the administration and the judiciary in Romania remain weak.

None of the countries have made significant headway in putting in place systems to monitor public aid or in tackling the challenge of adopting and applying environmental laws. The implementation of an approach to standards and certification similar to that in the Union is taking time.

Nuclear safety

The reports point out that ensuring high standards of nuclear safety throughout the European continent is a top priority for the EU. At the request of the European Council, the Commission has been involved in an intensive dialogue with each candidate country having non-upgradeable nuclear reactors with the aim of securing agreement on closure dates for these reactors. Subsequently, the Lithuanian government decided to close Unit 1 at Ignalina before the year of 2005 and expects unit 2 to be closed before 2009.

Similarly, the Slovak government decided to close Units 1-2 VI at Bohunice by 2006 and 2008 respectively. These decisions are farsighted and courageous, taken in a spirit of European integration. They constitute a significant step in preparation for EU membership. The Commission expresses disappointment in its report that the Bulgarian government has still not been prepared to commit itself to the closure of Units 1-4 at Kozloduy.

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