New hopes for enlargement
This week, both the Swedish prime minister and the EU enlargement commissioner expressed new hope for quick accession of the best-performing candidate states.
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In a speech to the European Parliament in Strasbourg on 17 January, Sweden's prime minister, Göran Persson, said it was possible to admit new members by the end of next year. In line with the Swedish presidency's agenda, he reiterated his commitment to the enlargement process as a whole and to tackling problematic negotiation areas in particular. Mr Persson also pointed out that the progress of negotiations would be assessed at the June 2001 European Council meeting in Gothenburg.
A day earlier, Enlargement Commissioner Günter Verheugen said that he hoped for an acceleration of enlargement under the Swedish presidency. Breakthroughs in some of the most sensitive areas of negotiations (free movement of goods, services, people and capital, social policy, the environment, external relations, culture and media, company law) were also anticipated, he pointed out.
Moreover, Mr Verheugen noted that the Nice Summit had outlined a clear timetable for accession. It has now been generally accepted that the best-performing candidates will be able to conclude negotiations by 2002 and to participate in the European elections in spring 2004. So the first new entries would take place some time between 2002 and 2004, he implied.
However, Mr Verheugen did not elaborate on the question of which are the best-performing countries he was referring to. Neither did he say that this timetable is anything more than an implicit reference.
Both Göran Persson and Günter Verheugen emphasised that if enlargement was to speed up, candidates would have to commit themselves to substantial reforms and act in line with the progress reports released last year. They also made it clear that no actual dates would be mentioned. Thus, despite the glaring political nature of the enlargement project, naming specific accession dates was yet again referred to as an issue dependent mainly, if not only, on the individual progress of accession states.
Three steps away from the euro
Christian Noyer, vice-president of the European Central Bank, said on 17 January that the ability of candidate states to meet the Copenhagen criteria would predetermine, to a large degree, their subsequent preparations to adopt the euro.
In a speech at the Central and East European Issuers and Investors Forum in Vienna, Mr Noyer said that accession countries were three steps away from the euro. The first is meeting the EU membership criteria, the second participation in the new Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM II) and the last completing the Maastricht criteria.
The issue of adopting the euro would be of growing importance, he implied. The major reason for this is that there is no "opt-out" alternative for new member states.
Mr Noyer also noted that "the economic outlook for practically all the countries is very positive," but step two and three of adopting the single currency could prove to be rather long for some. Overall, despite the commitment of the Eurosystem to enlargement, he reiterated that its main purpose is to keep the currency stable within the already established euro area.
Candidate countries to join European Environment Agency
The 13 accession states are to join the European Environment Agency (EEA) by the end of this year, the Commission announced. This will make the EEA the first EU agency to welcome the candidate countries before they become members.
The official talks on EEA membership were opened last March and were concluded in October 2000, when bilateral agreements with accession states were signed. These agreements are to be ratified by the Council of Ministers and the candidate countries by the end of the year.
The inclusion of these new members in the agency would be beneficial for all, the Commission pointed out. On one hand, the new members will be able to obtain EEA financial assistance in "setting up data collection networks during their first three years" and in "establishing and operating their own monitoring systems." In return, they will provide the EEA with regular environmental data, establish the necessary infrastructures and contribute financially to the operation of the agency.
On the other hand, the enlargement of EEA will make possible the supervision and relative control of the environment in the greater part of Europe. This will facilitate efforts to improve the state of the environment and to support sustainable development on a wide scale.
The accession of the candidate states to the EEA will be a practical means of examining the recently debated relationship between the environment and enlargement within the EU. In light of the Swedish presidency's emphasis on enlargement, employment and the environment, it is also a timely act.
Ivana Gogova, 19 January 2001
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European Parliament Daily Notebook 17/01/01
Commission Press Release 16/01/01
Some ECB views on the accession process
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