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Welcome to Enlargement Weekly - the overview of where European Union enlargement has got to, who's doing what in the EU institutions and the candidates, and how the main challenges are being met. The editor welcomes comment and input from everyone with an interest in enlargement.
New mechanisms are needed to support innovation and industrial upgrading, according to a new report on "Innovation Policy in Six Candidate Countries", financed by the European Commission. Creating internal networks to link technology advanced foreign-owned firms in candidate countries with local firms that are technologically weak could help close the gap with present EU Member States, it says.
The report, covering Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Poland and Slovenia, says that innovation activity is relatively localised in these countries, with a limited pool of small innovative firms. Development is hampered by reservations over entrepreneurship, and insufficient technology and managerial resources, it argues.
There is not yet a fully-fledged innovation policy in any of the six countries examined, the report claims. Although there are encouraging signs of innovation initiatives, and some countries are more advanced than others, extensive and co-ordinated innovation policies and functioning research-industry networks have yet to emerge. This means that there is still insufficient attention to fostering a more favourable view of entrepreneurship, enhancing access to seed capital, and strengthening the market-oriented skills of the labour force.
The EU candidate countries at the European Conference in Brussels on October 20 joined in a declaration expressing strong solidarity with the United States in the fight against terrorism, and supported the measures taken, including wholehearted support for the action in the framework of legitimate defence. Commitments included moving ahead with national programmes of specific anti- terrorist measures and enhanced co-ordination and pooling of expertise.
Arrangements are to be put in hand for an exchange of information on the activities and movements of individuals or groups belonging to or linked to terrorist networks; on deliveries of weapons, explosives and dual-use goods; and on new forms of terrorist activities, including chemical, biological and nuclear threats.
Lithuanian Foreign Minister Antanas Valionis remarked that in the face of challenges such as threats of terrorism, Europe has to remain a safe, stable and flourishing place. "Meanwhile the continuous processes of the enlargement of the European Union and NATO contribute to an increase in security and stability on our continent", he said. He suggested it would be useful for the EU to communicate and co-operate with its partner states in central and eastern Europe in reaching a common approach to European security. He welcomed the participation of Russia, the Ukraine and Moldova as extremely important.
Turkey should immediately abolish capital punishment, allow freedom of association and freedom of expression, and do all it can to meet the EU's accession criteria as soon as possible, according to the European Parliament. In a resolution adopted on October 25, the Parliament emphasises human rights and democracy, and specifically requests to ensure that those responsible for violation of human rights are brought to justice. MEPs said they wanted to see an end to detention of suspects without trial and the possibility of torture.
But the resolution also recognises that Turkey has made efforts to bring in political and economic changes, including the recent amendments to its constitution, the removal of judges from the State Security Courts, the extension of the scope of the amnesty law and the reduction of the time spent in police custody. Turkey is moving closer to the fundamental values of the European Union and should be encouraged, the Parliament concluded.
MEPs called for priority to be given to negotiation on Cyprus with a view to helping the enlargement process. (A Declaration issued by the EU Presidency on October 23 shared the disappointment expressed by the President of the United Nations Security Council at the refusal of the Turkish side to take part in the meeting on Cyprus on 12 September. The Presidency called on all parties "to cooperate in the process with a view to achieving a political settlement before the end of the negotiations for Cyprus' accession to the European Union." Meanwhile, another Declaration from the Presidency described the constitutional reforms as "an encouraging step".)
And in a linked resolution, Parliament approved the proposed pre-accession financial assistance for Turkey - although it urged that aid programmes should be more coordinated, and should be targeted particularly on backward regions in order to reduce disparities in income. MEPs also recommended more effective information in Turkey about EU financial assistance, to help raise the EU's profile and improve its image there.
During the debate, European Enlargement Commissioner Günter Verheugen indicated the Commission broadly endorsed the recommendations in the Parliament's report. Action was needed to back legislative change: "The actual human rights situation as it affects individuals in Turkey has not improved", he said. But he complimented Turkey on progress made and encouraged further effort. He also said the Commission favoured Turkey taking part in the Convention on the Future of the European Union.
The European Parliament has backed administrative reforms designed to improve the workings of the Council of Ministers after enlargement. A resolution adopted on October 25 points out that enlargement to 27 states will exacerbate the inconsistencies that already exist and make decision-making more cumbersome. It calls for methods to speed up decision-making, such as taking decisions by a qualified majority as soon as an adequate majority is reached. It also says it is 'desirable' that candidate countries be consulted about the future structure and functioning of the Council.
Visiting Estonia on behalf of the EU Presidency last week, Belgium's European Affairs Minister Annemie Neyts-Utterbroeck discussed EU enlargement with foreign minister Toomas Hendrik Ilves and chief negotiator Alar Streimann. There was also discussion of the upcoming regular report from the European Commission on Estonia's progress towards accession - along with talks on Europe's future and the fight against terrorism.
Enlargement of the EU will do much to preserve peace and stability in Europe and foster co-operation between Europe and its neighbours, according to the European Parliament report on the EU's Common Foreign and Security Policy, adopted on October 25. The Parliament says it leaves, however, each candidate country free to decide whether to apply for NATO membership, adding that "the enlargement of NATO can contribute to peace and security in Europe as long as this is not perceived as a threat by neighbouring countries".
The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development is lending $54 million to Lietuvos Gelezinkeliai for rehabilitation of 155 kilometres of mainline track, and to accelerate restructuring. The $112 million project, developed in co-operation with the European Union's ISPA programme for transport and environment infrastructure, covers track renewal in key sections of the network: between Vilnius and Kaliningrad, and between Vilnius and the port of Klaipeda - part of the pan-European Corridor IX. The EU is expected to provide an additional $41.4 million for telecommunications, signalling and power supply, and to reinforce bridges and important structures along the line.
The UK has presented Lithuania with an action plan aimed at helping Lithuania's integration into the EU. The UK ambassador to Lithuania, Christopher Robbins, told foreign affairs minister Antanas Valionis: "Lithuania's progress in becoming a member of the EU is amazing. The UK government is delighted to be able to help Lithuania solve the remaining technical problems and to inform people about the EU".
Former European prime ministers and political figures presented "Réveillons l'Europe" to President of the European Council, Guy Verhofstadt on October 15, as their contribution to the debate on the future of Europe. The text warns of "a creeping languor which enlargement is likely only to aggravate". For years, the European Union has been lacking drive, searching for an identity but lacking a common political project, apart from large-scale enlargement, it says. The authors of the report call for radical policies and radical change, claiming that the "community method will be more necessary than ever in an enlarged European Union, where decisions will be even more difficult to take".
The Bulgarian Prime Minister, Simeon Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, met EU and NATO leaders in Brussels and Strasbourg during the week, on his first foreign visit since taking up office three months ago. He had a "cordial" meeting with European Parliament President Nicole Lafontaine in Strasbourg, as well as the principal EP group leaders, and received encouragement from the Parliament for early accession to the EU. He also told Pedro Solbes Mira, European Commissioner for Economic and Monetary Affairs, of government plans for privatisation and tax and customs reforms. The Commissioner said Bulgaria had made substantial economic progress and advanced towards accession, with macroeconomic stability, considerable privatisation, and many structural reforms underway. But he noted that further structural measures were needed for Bulgaria to establish a fully functioning market economy.
The European Parliament voted on October 24 to boost the EU's 2002 budget, partly to take account of the cost of enlargement. MEP Kathalijne Maria Buitenweg (Greens/EFA, NL) emphasised that it was now time to take account of the implications of enlargement for the EU's institutions and the extra staff and building costs that would be generated. Parliament argues that the "external actions" budget allocation is still suffering most from a shortage of funds, and that there is a need to increase provisions under the "pre-accession" heading (where the Commission originally proposed €2.9 billion, the Council reduced this to €2.54 billion and Parliament is advocating €3.07 billion.
The European Parliament committee on citizens' freedoms and rights, justice and home affairs has backed an update and expansion of the Schengen Information System. The current system is designed for a maximum of 18 member states, and will reach its ceiling with the forthcoming enlargement of the EU. A newer and more powerful version is needed, incorporating the latest technology and allowing full participation by the applicant countries.
The European Commission has proposed granting EU candidate countries transition periods of two or three years for raising excise duties on cigarettes, on condition they come up with plans for clearly defined stages for full application of the acquis. After lengthy internal reflection, the Commission came to the view that the impact of transitional periods on the EU internal market will be small relative to the problems that already arise from existing differences in excise duties in the EU15. Protestations from candidate countries that EU insistence on an immediate rise in cigarette duties risked alienating people were, eventually, taken on board by the Commission. Poland, Romania and Slovenia would be allowed 2 years to bring their duties in line with the EU acquis, and Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Slovakia will be allowed 3 years. Hungary, Cyprus and Malta did not request any transitional period.
PUTTING THE ENLARGEMENT COMMUNICATION STRATEGY IN PLACE
In May last year, the European Commission adopted the Enlargement Communication Strategy. Since then, some major changes have been taking place in the way the Commission addresses the challenge of making sure that EU enlargement is widely understood. While the resources in the Commission devoted to explaining the EU in the Member States have been directed over the past few years primarily towards ensuring a smooth introduction of the Euro, there is now a new impetus to the way that information about enlargement is being delivered.
Graham Avery, chief advisor in the Commission's Enlargement Directorate General, says that communication now forms the "third pillar" of the enlargement process, alongside the pre-accession preparations in the candidate countries, and the accession negotiations in Brussels. He stresses that it is not enough just to provide information: the aim is communication, which requires clear and carefully tailored strategies and a proactive and imaginative approach.
For two days in mid-October, more than 100 EU officials came together in Budapest to refine the approach to information. They included senior figures from the Commission's Enlargement directorate general in Brussels, and staff from Commission representations, delegations and information offices in all 15-member states and all 13-candidate countries.
As Michael Lake, the head of the European Commission Delegation in Hungary, said in welcoming the delegates, there is a role to play in the candidate countries in "bringing public opinion onside for this historic opportunity" - so that their citizens can "vote with confidence in a referendum". But overall success depended on a broader understanding that Brussels and the member states are also part of the exercise, he added.
The Commission delegations in the candidate countries and representations in the member states are now putting the final touches to their national strategies and annual work plans in line with the overall Enlargement Communication Strategy. They have a high degree of autonomy in deciding the most appropriate approach, based on local conditions and circumstances. The need for locally designed responses is obvious, because there are wide differences in local circumstances and concerns - in the member states as much as in the candidate countries.
For instance, detailed assessments carried out by the Commission Representation in Denmark reveal that most Danes are interested in the accession of the Baltic states, Poland and Hungary, with lowest priority given to Hungary - and 20% of the population believing that Norway is a candidate.
Austria appeared from the discussions to be a special case, since it has borders with four candidate countries, one with its capital further west than Vienna. According to the latest Eurobarometer survey, only 33% are in favour of enlargement - the lowest level in the EU - and 49% are against - the highest in the EU (although he adds that some local polls are more optimistic). The objective here is not so much to stimulate debate as to help ensure the debate is a well-informed one.
By contrast, in France, only a small part of the population is aware of enlargement and in favour of it - the majority are ignorant and indifferent, and the most widely-share sentiment is the fear of losing EU funding. "There is no debate right now because no-one is interested", said a participant, so the challenge is not only to deal with the concerns expressed by small parts of the population, but to actually stimulate a wider interest in enlargement as an important issue that will actually effect everyone..
Avery insists on the need for an individualised approach to information, to match local circumstances: "Just translating our material is not doing your job", he told Commission information officers at the meeting in Budapest. "Address the concerns of your people in their language", he urged. Who actually addresses the people was a subject of debate, with the consensus being that "multipliers" or well-informed members of the political community or civil society will play a key role in informing people.
There is no shortage of ideas and projects within the Commission's local offices to raise awareness and deepen understanding. They range from creating networks and alliances with opinion-formers to stimulating public debate; from holding a "Latvia day" in Finland, with the presence of the Latvian foreign minister, to twinning exercises between farmers' organisations in member states and candidate countries; and from conducting in-depth opinion surveys, to engaging with the media and arranging visits and briefings for influential figures.
One of the key themes to emerge from meeting was that communications need targeting effectively. For instance, the importance of fully evaluating poll figures was highlighted by Hanna Jezioranska from the Commission delegation in Warsaw. She warned against complacency, pointing out that while Polish surveys suggested a fairly stable 53% of the population in favour of accession, a more complex picture underlies this apparently strong support. Only 45% of the population said they would go out to vote 'yes' in a referendum. And only 17% are in favour of rapid accession, with 72% wanting to negotiate better terms before joining. Communications need to be adjusted accordingly, she urged.
In the European Parliament too, a new intensity is being brought to the exercise. The Parliament stressed its readiness to become more involved in the information effort in the member states in the run-up to the 2004 EP elections, to avert the risk of enlargement being hijacked by parties or candidates who want to exploit it to feed fears of loss of jobs or damage to the environment. The Parliament has also set aside funds to extend its network of information offices from the member states to the candidate countries: five new offices will be opened in the candidate countries next year to ensure local visibility and contact, and to inform the public, and to encourage a high turnout in the new member states that will be able to vote in the 2004 elections.
And there is a new degree of co-ordination between the EU institutions on information. Juana Lahousse, director of communication in the European Parliament’s General Secretariat, and other EP information officials, were invited to the Budapest meeting - the first such example of working together. As Lahousse said, "The presence of the EP here is a very clear signal of our will to work together and deepen our co-operation".
Editor: Peter O'Donnell - Editor in Chief: Wenceslas de Lobkowicz, European Commission DG Enlargement - Exclusive use restricted to this website - do not reproduce without authorisation of the Editors. This newsletter does not represent the 'official' views of the Commission but is a collection of independent articles on the enlargement process. ©Web design: Martine Withofs