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On 31 March 1998, accession negotiations were started with six applicant countries - Hungary, Poland, Estonia, the Czech Republic, Slovenia and Cyprus.
On 13 October 1999, the Commission recommended Member States to open negotiations with Romania, the Slovak Republic, Latvia, Lithuania, Bulgaria and Malta. This was endorsed by Member States at the Helsinki Summit on 12 December 1999.
The 15 Member States are the parties to the accession negotiations on the EU side. The Presidency of the Council of Ministers, which rotates among the member states every six months (Austria during the second half of 1998), puts forward the negotiating positions agreed by the member states and chairs negotiating sessions at the level of ministers or their deputies.
The General Secretariat of the Council
and the applicant countries provide the secretariat for the negotiations.
The European Commission conducts the screening exercise with the applicants and draws up draft negotiating positions for the member states. The Commission is in close contact with the applicant countries in order to seek solutions to problems arising during the negotiations. The Commission set up the Task Force for the Accession Negotiations on 21 January 1998 to provide a focus for its work. With the arrival of the Prodi Commission, this Task Force was merged with the services responsible for pre-accession in the new DG for Enlargement.
The European Parliament is kept
informed of the progress of the negotiations and gives its assent to the resulting
Public approval of enlargement will be expressed principally through the European Parliament's assent procedure and through ratification by each of the member states and applicant cooutries. In some countries a referendum may also be called on final approval of the accession treaties.
The negotiations determine the conditions under which each applicant country will join the European Union. On joining the Union, applicants are expected to accept the "acquis", i.e. the detailed laws and rules adopted on the basis of the EU's founding treaties, mainly the treaties of Rome, Maastricht and Amsterdam.
The negotiations focus on the terms under which the applicants will adopt, implement and enforce the acquis, and, notably, the granting of possible transitional arrangements which must be limited in scope and duration. Under similar arrangements in previous accession negotiations, new Member States have been able to phase in their compliance with certain laws and rules by a date agreed during the negotiations.
In 1997 the Council reached agreement on the procedure for the negotiations. Sessions are held at the level of ministers or deputies, i.e. permanent representatives, for the Member States, and Aambassadors or chief negotiators for the applicants.
The negotiations with each applicant are treated on their own merits The pace of each negotiation will depend on the degree of preparation by each applicant country and the complexity of the issues to be resolved. For this reason, it is not possible to estimate the likely length of each negotiation in advance.
The Commission proposes common negotiating positions for the EU for each chapter relating to matters of Community competence. The Council Presidency, in close liaison with Member States and the Commission, makes proposals for such positions on the chapters concerning the Common Foreign and Security Policy and co-operation in justice and home affairs. It is also open to the Commission to make proposals in areas covered by article K.1(1 6) of the European Union Treaty.
Negotiating positions are approved unanimously by the member states.The results of the negotiations are incorporated in a draft accession treaty. This is submitted to the Council for approval and to the European Parliament for assent. After signature, the accession treaty is submitted to the member states and to the applicant country for ratification involving, in some cases, referenda. It takes effect, and the applicant becomes a member state, on the date of accession.