Helsinki Group catching up
On Tuesday 24 October, states from the second wave of EU accession talks (the so-called Helsinki Group) closed several chapters at deputy-level negotiations. Overall, 18 new chapters were opened at this meeting; 12 of these were closed. In this way, countries
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Bulgaria, Latvia, Malta and Slovakia all opened and closed the consumer and health protection chapter. Negotiations on industrial policy were started and finalized by Latvia, Lithuania and Slovakia. The fisheries chapter was opened with Latvia, Malta and Slovakia, but only the latter country managed to conclude talks on it. Bulgaria, Malta and Romania all started talks on the statistics chapter and eventually closed it.
While both Romania and Malta opened the culture and audiovisual policy chapter, only Malta managed to end negotiations on it. Talks on telecommunications were started with Bulgaria. Lithuania finalized negotiations on the already opened external policy chapter. Slovakia was the only one to open the customs union chapter.
Thus, from the start of negotiations in March 2000, Malta has already concluded talks on ten chapters, followed by Slovakia with nine. Latvia and Lithuania have closed seven chapters, while Bulgaria and Romania have finished six so far. Measuring progress in these terms, it is obvious that some states from the Helsinki Group are closing the gap with the Luxembourg Group of accession countries (Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Poland, Slovenia). It is, therefore, very likely that the distinctions between the two groups will be increasingly challenged.
Ministerial-level negotiations with the Helsinki Group are scheduled for 21 November. However, it is going to be under the Swedish presidency at the beginning of next year that some of the most problematic chapters will be discussed (agriculture, environmental policy, free movement of people and budgetary contributions).
Schröder: EU enlargement by end of 2002
On Monday 23 October, the German chancellor, Gerhard Schröder, told the Slovak press that the EU could accept its first new members by the end of 2002 after completing its internal reform.
In an interview with the daily Pravda, Schröder demonstrated some wishful thinking by expressing his expectations of the upcoming intergovernmental conference in December in Nice. He stressed that the summit should reach decisions regarding its institutional reform "in such a way that the EU will be internally ready to accept new members by the end of 2002."
He also emphasized that candidates will be accepted not in light of when they started negotiation talks but depending on how soon they meet EU criteria.
Despite Schröder's disposition towards quick and "fair" enlargement, diplomats remain highly skeptical that this is possible by the end of 2002. Rather, 2005 has been generally accepted among these circles as the most likely date for the first accessions.
Verheugen: Ten countries could join in 2005
Enlargement Commissioner Gunter Verheugen told the German press on 20 October that most candidate states could join the EU by 2005.
In an interview with the Frankfurter Allgemenie Zeitung, Verheugen said that up to ten countries could become EU members by 2005. The only two states he openly excluded were Bulgaria and Romania. These, he said, had set themselves later target dates. However, in pointing to these countries' own policies on EU membership, he did not reveal the Union's position on the matter.
Second-wave candidates pressing for early entry
On Wednesday 25 October, chief negotiators from Latvia, Lithuania and Slovakia met in Brussels to express their views on enlargement dates. Unlike Bulgaria and Romania, which currently aim for 2007, they all put forward early 2004 as a reasonable date for accession.
Negotiators from all three countries said they expected to catch up with the first-wave candidates (Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Slovenia) and to be accepted at the same time. They also showed their intentions to conclude negotiation talks at the end of 2002, which makes 2003 at least possible for accession. In this respect, Latvian and Slovak negotiators said that the EU would have their countries' position on all 31 negotiation chapters by December this year.
Moreover, in this way, they will demand from the EU a clear accession scenario to be arrived at when the Nice summit takes place in December. This proposition was seen as slightly overoptimistic by some, considering that initially such scenarios were only considered for first-wave candidates, let alone that recently the French presidency openly declared no such decisions will be arrived at during the intergovernmental conference.
On the other hand, the expressed intentions of Latvia, Lithuania and Slovakia come as a response to recent implications from the EU that members will be accepted not based on when they started negotiations but depending no how soon they meet accession criteria. In this respect, the process of meeting these criteria was discussed in greater detail. Slovakia's chief negotiator, Jan Figel, noted that the Helsinki Group has in a way benefited from its position since most of the encountered problems were common and solutions could, therefore, be shared.
Latvian and Slovakian representatives stressed that their countries' rapid progress should not be attributed to leniency on behalf of the EU. Rather, as a result of negotiating with first-wave candidates, EU representatives have become more thorough in dealing with the second wave.
Turkey-EU relations uncertain
Recent statements made by Enlargement Commissioner Gunter Verheugen together with released commentary from the Centre for European Policy Research (CEPR) make it clear that the euphoria of the Helsinki meeting has died away and Turkey's road to accession remains highly uncertain.
In an interview with the German Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Verheugen pointed out that Turkey is unlikely to start negotiation talks with the EU in 2004 as planned. He emphasised that the EU political criteria have yet to be met. Progress in reforms concerning greater democracy, the rule of law and respect for human rights was so far insufficient, Verheugen implied. But most of all, he argued, the gap between EU's expecatations and Turkey's potential to meet them was still considerable enough.
At the same time, a new commentary by the CEPR, "New doubts and uncertainties in Turkey-EU relations", points at the possibility of a "special relationship" between Turkey and the EU as a rather more feasible way forward. Provided that the option for a full membership remains open, this approach will be more efficient in starting reform, at least on less sensitive topics, it was argued.
Presently, the lack of institutional clarity within the EU and its membership requirement for good relations with neighbours are seen as some of the major impediments to an early startup for negotiations with Turkey.
Lastly, the commentary concludes that a constructive interpretation of the "special relationship" between Turkey and EU could encourage the former to start its political reform; moreover, the union is much less likely to alienate a strategically important prospective member.
Ivana Gogova, 28 October 2000
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