Treaty of Nice to be signed
The Treaty of Nice will be signed by European foreign ministers on Monday, 26 February. This will be the first step of its ratification process.
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The draft of the Treaty was agreed upon at a Council meeting at the end of last year. Initially, the Nice Summit was to deal with the problem of enlargement as encapsulating the future of the EU. Unsurprisingly enough, the meeting turned out to be a renewed debate on the problems between current member states and on the very idea of a European union.
As a result, the Treaty of Nice has opened up more contentious points than it closed. Thus, the upcoming intergovernmental conference will be, according to current speculations, a direct continuation of the Summit of Nice.
The ratification of the Treaty, on the other hand, is a long process. The draft needs to be approved and signed by EU ministers first and then by the Parliaments of the countries concerned. In other words, it can take up to two years for the Treaty to become functional.
The financial and political crisis that engulfed Turkey in the middle of last week will inevitably set back the country's preparations for EU membership.
On Wednesday, 21 February, Turkey decided to rid its economy of its exchange rate controls. As a result, the national currency was rapidly devalued, and calls for a change of government became audible.
The generated internal economic and political instability will significantly damage Turkey's pledge for EU membership. Most importantly, the developments of last week have come immediately after the EU decided to encourage Turkey's candidacy. In addition, Ankara was expected to launch a national programme outlining the most pertinent state reforms with respect to future EU membership.
On another note, Turkey's political life, especially with regards to human rights and the role of the military sector in government, was of greater concern to the EU than its economic viability. Now, it seems, the latter will have to take priority over the former because, compared to political unsavouries, economic crises reach other economies more quickly. What this could mean in the medium to long term for Turkey is that the country could become backlogged in an even less EU-friendly political regime, provided that a sudden change of government occurs.
Nevertheless, it is most likely that Turkey will be bolstered by some of the Western powers because of its strategic importance in the Middle East conflict area. As early as last week, the USA confirmed its willingness to support the IMF-backed programme for economic reform in Turkey.
EU to decide on movement of people in June
The EU Commission will decide the terms of free movement of people from Central and Eastern Europe in June. This decision is long-anticipated and extremely problematic.
At present, the free movement of people, especially that of the labour force, from future Central and East European member states is one of the biggest thorns in the eyes of a reunited Europe. On one hand, economic migration is a very sensitive political issue on a national level. On the other hand, it has become increasingly obvious that some of the member states need a larger workforce due to a combination of demographic and economic factors.
As a result, the EU has not managed to come up with a common position on economic migration from the future member states. Currently, borderline members such as Germany and Austria are by large supporting a seven-year transition period. Meanwhile, other countries, as already implied, are in favour of an immediate effect of the principle of free movement of people in an enlarged Union. Lastly, there is also the proposal of quota migration to and from certain countries.
Whatever the decision, candidate states are currently eager to point out that the free movement of people is one of the four pillars of the EU and that, if they are not granted even one of the freedoms of movement, this would mean the end of the myth of equal membership.
NATO opens office in Moscow
The new NATO Information Office, inaugurated in Moscow on 20 February and establishing a formal presence of the transatlantic alliance in Russia, is to inform Russian citizens on the new role of NATO and foster NATO-Russian cooperation.
At the opening ceremony on Tuesday Lord Robertson, NATO secretary general, expressed confidence that "the office will make a significant contribution to more realistic perceptions so that ... the potential is great for NATO/Russia common approach to tomorrow's threats and security challenges."
The office is located in the Belgian embassy and is to start functioning in the near future. It was refused by the Russians, however, the status of a diplomatic mission (eg as that of a foreign embassy). Consequentially, the NATO officers maintaining the centre would not have diplomatic immunity from prosecution.
Such a development, although understandable, is said to stand in contrast with the much bigger mission the Kremlin has in the NATO headquarters in Brussels and the greater privileges Russians are known to enjoy there. In the words of a West European diplomat, things are very complicated so that "there will definitely be status problems."
NATO coherence tested again
Diplomatic confusion within NATO was stirred this week as US plans for a National Missile Defence (NMD) were put into question by Jean Chretien, the Canadian Prime Minister. He stated that the Bush administration would not proceed with its "Son of Star Wars" project if it met strong foreign opposition, if it caused significant problems for NATO and without Russian and Chinese acceptance of the matter. He argues that his views are based on a conversation he has had with President George W Bush.
This goes in contradiction with the opinion expressed by US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in Munich a fortnight ago, when he said that the NMD would be built without reference to external views.
President Bush mentioned the conversation he had with Mr Chretien but did not admit having discussed NMD issues with him at all.
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Speech by Lord Robertson at the Moscow State Institute of Foreign Relations, 21 February 2001
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