EU-Poland farm trade agreement
Wednesday last week the European Commission and Poland agreed to mutually liberalize their trade on farm products.
Negotiations with Poland were restarted on Tuesday 26 September, after being suspended in April this year, when Poland refused to cut custom duties. These duties had been previously raised in 1999 after protests from Polish farmers.
A day after Agriculture Commissioner Franz Fischler declared the renewal of negotiations with Poland, an agreement was reached. According to him, the deal covers a trade volume of over EUR one million. Compared to recently concluded agreements with other candidates, this one has the deepest and widest coverage so far. Approximately 75 percent of current Polish agricultural exports to member states will be exempted from import duty. The main products concerned are almost all fruits and vegetables, wheat, milk powder, butter, cheese and meat.
As with the other candidate states, which have already signed agreements on trade liberalisation with the EU, the deal with Poland is also based on the Commission's "double zero" approach. This approach allows for the reciprocal elimination of export refunds and import tariffs within the framework of tariff quotas that have been set at an initial level corresponding to the average trade patterns of the last three years. Both sides agree on a considerable annual quota increase.
As Enlargement Commissioner Günter Verheugen pointed out, the agreement between Poland and the EU will "pave the way for the accession negotiations on the agricultural chapter in a spirit of mutual good will."
Eurocities to be involved in enlargement
Eurocities, an association of 95 major European cities from 26 countries, expressed willingness to support enlargement on a local and regional level.
In co-operation with the Brussels region, the association organized an international conference on the challenges of EU membership, which took place in Brussels on Tuesday 26 September. Of major concern was the fact that cities play a crucial role in implementing parts of EU legislation but, at the same time, are not incorporated into pre-accession strategies. This, it was argued, contributes to a lack of sufficient training and preparedness for membership of the cities of Central and Eastern Europe.
The increasing role of cities within candidate countries was seen to be integral in supporting and promoting tasks such as institution building and implementation of the acquis communautairie on a local level. This new role of local authorities is to be facilitated by member cities through exchanges of experience and information and through training and secondment schemes.
In this respect, the East West Committee can provide at least a partial institutional framework for achieving some of the intentions expressed in Brussels this week. The Committee was set up in 1994 by Eurocities with the intention of promoting the exchange of information and transfer of knowledge between cities in the EU and those from Central and Eastern Europe.
Lastly, the need for co-ordination between local and national authorities was stressed. Eurocities pointed out that the direct involvement of local authorities should be inscribed within the larger framework of pre-accession partnerships on a state level.
Five dissatisfied with pace of enlargement
The "Group of Five" candidate countries (the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Poland and Slovenia) expressed concerns over the pace of eastward enlargement. What they referred to as delays in the process could lead to social and economic stress in the candidate countries, they said.
Officials from the five candidate states said that political machinations were preventing the EU from agreeing on clear target dates for conclusion of accession talks. They urged the Union to come up with a timetable at the intergovernmental meeting in Nice, France, in December.
Estonian Finance Minister Siim Kallas even criticised the EU's accession agenda. He pointed out that while technological change and economic progress were indeed necessary for joining the EU, the political requirements were a hindrance to the process and were unacceptable.
Meanwhile, Hungarian Finance Minister Zsigmond Járai, expressed similar views. He stressed that while the EU was expecting social reforms in areas such as health care and social security, it was not giving any direction on how these changes should come about.
Overall, the argument of the Group of Five was implicitly centered on the fact that delays in accession deadlines will cause social and even economic turbulence. One could argue that the latter might be caused not so much by the pace of enlargement itself but by the lack of any tangible results in the candidate countries so far that would justify policy decisions. This could be especially true as the Group of Five represents the first wave of accession.
At the same time, there are still fears among some member states that enlargement could lead to a flood of labour and destabilization of agricultural policies. Thus, as much as politicians from candidate countries are eager to reach clear target dates, politicians within the EU are anxious about offering them.
Upcoming EU talks with Macedonia
The EU's commissioner on foreign relations, Chris Patten, expressed hopes that Macedonia and the EU can sign a Stabilization and Association Agreement. He made his statement after meeting Macedonian Prime Minister Ljiubco Georgievski in Brussels on Tuesday 26 September. As to the place and time of these negotiations, he referred to the EU's Balkan summit in Zagreb this November.
Patten said that the fact that Macedonia was the first country with which the EU would hold such negotiations was an indication of its government's success in implementing broad political and economic reforms. Nevertheless, in light of the Kosovo conflict last year, a parallel can be drawn between the EU's recent dispositions towards Bulgaria and now Macedonia.
Ivana Gogova, 29 September 2000
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