EU Enlargement: a step forward?
The first deputy level meeting with EU candidates under the Swedish Presidency took place on 29 and 30 March in Brussels. As a result, most of the parties involved left Brussels in relatively good spirits.
Overall, a significant breakthrough in some of the most difficult areas of negotiations was achieved. Bulgaria and Romania were the only candidates that did not close any negotiation chapters.
"Particularly gratifying is our success in solving the difficult issues in the environment and energy chapters with Slovenia, the company law issue with the Czech Republic and Hungary, and the issue of free movement of capital with Cyprus," said Anna Lindh, Sweden's Minister for Foreign Affairs.
As a result, Cyprus, Estonia and Slovenia are currently in the lead of the negotiation race, with 18 out of 30 chapters already provisionally closed. Thus, it was confirmed that the best performing candidates would be able to conclude all negotiations by the end of the Spanish Presidency in 2002, and participate in EU Parliamentary elections in 2004.
Slovenia's chief negotiator Janez Potocnik even said the current rate of negotiations makes it possible for the EU to take a decision on the final stage of the enlargement process for the most advanced countries at the Göteborg Summit in June.
However, it was still obvious that the EU members have not established a common position on some of the most controversial issues such as agriculture, regional development and financial provisions. In other words, breakthroughs in this area of the negotiations are very unlikely in the near future.
A ministerial level meeting is scheduled for 11 and 12 June.
Turkey presents its National Programme
On 26 March, Turkey's Foreign Minister Ismail Cem met with Enlargement Commissioner Günter Verheugen in Brussels. There he presented the country's National Programme for the Adoption of the Acquis (NPAA), the first and most important step in the series of preparations for the negotiation of EU membership.
Although the EU has been insisting on the creation of Turkey's National Programme ever since the country was granted EU candidate status in December 1999, Mr Verheugen was quite cautious in his welcome.
At the heart of the matter was the fact that Turkey still did not present the EU with clear line of action on those aspects of its political life the EU deems most disturbing.
To start with, there was no timetable set for the abolition of the death penalty. At the same time, the EU's demand for the protection of the rights of the Kurdish minority in particular (such as the public use of their language in schools and media) only translated to the NPAA recommending that other languages can be used. Finally, the presented programme did not address in a direct fashion the influence of the military in Turkey's political life.
The meeting in Brussels and the presentation of the NPAA has come in times when Turkey is in dire need for international support so that it can cope with its late economic crisis.
NATO reluctant to commit
With no great change over Balkan matters, apart from events getting increasingly out of control with the killing of three civilians, including a British television producer on Thursday, it is time to reassess NATO's efforts to safeguard the so evanescent peace and security of the region.
On 26 March, Lord Robertson, NATO Secretary General, traveled to the Macedonian capital Skopje and held talks with President Boris Trajkovski and other Macedonian political leaders. In what might be seen as inappropriate vagueness, he reaffirmed the Alliance's support for the government and at the same time asked for a more moderate approach than currently shown by it.
Such a position is understandable on two grounds. The first relates to the practical requirements for the success of a mediator: going for impartiality and in no way encouraging aggressiveness, especially if it comes to be one-sided only.
The second reason is a more cynical one. Taking up the middle way is best for covering reluctance. And reluctance is what NATO owns in abundance. Despite Lord Robertson stating NATO's firm immediate priority in the region to be bringing peace and stability to the Preševo valley (speaking at a conference on security threats and crisis management in Southeast Europe held in Rome on 26 March), the Alliance does not seem prepared to do so. The biggest sign for the hesitation is that KFOR does not have the mandate to get directly involved in Macedonia, which is clearly an obstacle to effective border control.
The lack of willingness, sadly enough, goes to the heart of NATO's peacekeeping and peacemaking experiences in the Balkans. The area has always been a highly risky political business, and this is especially so at a time when some EU governments will be fighting elections soon. Coupled with a possible backlash in Kosovo, the vision of yet another "Balkan quagmire" is repulsive enough.
NATO involvement in Macedonia looks ever more improbable if undecided, but evident decreasing, American commitment to the area is considered. It would hardly be wise to ponder the possibility of a European-led involvement either—Washington's fears of Europe standing on its own do exist indeed.
So what does all that accumulate to? Unfortunately, the same old pattern is more than obvious—relative passivity and mere talking until the small-scale burning has turned into a blazing fire.
Ivana Gogova and Branimira Radoslavova,
31 March 2001
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