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Panel Discussion on the 2012 EU Enlargement Package

20.11.2012 Welcome address by Mr Georgios Markopouliotis, Head of the European Commission Representation in Cyprus at an event organised by the Representation of the European Commission on Tuesday, 20 November 2012, 09:15  at the EU House, Nicosia.

Dear Government Spokesperson, Dear Stefane,
Dear Chairman of the House Standing Committee on Foreign and European Affairs, Dear Averof,
Dear Deputy Director General of DG Enlargement, Dear Joost
Dear President of Cyprus News Agency, Dear Larko,
Dear Professor Kızılyürek,
Dear representative of "Cyprus 2015", Mr Kaymak,
Your Excellencies,
Honourable guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am delighted to welcome you here today to the EU house for a discussion on the EU enlargement package for 2012. This package, presented on 10 October by Mr Štefan Füle, European Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy, constitutes a regular assessment of the challenges in the enlargement process and progress achieved by individual countries.

At a time when the EU faces major challenges and significant global uncertainty, enlargement policy continues to contribute to peace, security and prosperity on our continent.

Since the creation of the European project, more than four decades ago, enlargement policy has been the EU's response to the legitimate aspiration of the peoples of our continent to be united in a common European endeavour.  Successive accessions have seen the number of members gradually increase from the original six to 27 – soon to be 28; more than three quarters of the EU Member States are former ‘enlargement’ countries.

The results of this steady approach are, I believe, clear. It has brought together nations and cultures; it has helped Europe move forward, by enriching and injecting the EU with diversity and dynamism.

It is important that the European Union remains open to those on our continent that want to apply to become part of our common democratic project built on our shared values. This is especially true at a time when the EU gains new momentum for economic, financial and political integration. We need to bear in mind that enlargement policy, within a framework of strict but fair conditionality continues to contribute to peace, security and prosperity on our continent. It is a win-win situation for both the EU and the countries which become members of the European family.

Let me illustrate this point with an example. As you probably know, the most recent enlargement included the countries of Central and Eastern Europe. This process did more than uniting East and West after decades of artificial separation. From the start of negotiations to the actual accession, exports from the EU to the acceding countries more than tripled. It is also estimated that one third of the already high growth of the acceding countries in the same period was due to the effect of enlargement.

I will not elaborate any further on the added value of the enlargement process; Mr Joost Korte, Deputy Director General of the European Commission's DG Enlargement of will offer us a more detailed account of the Commission's approach on the issue, while we have many distinguished speakers here that will give us their invaluable insights on the enlargement process. Let me just give you brief a rundown of today's programme.

Session one seeks to explore the transformational power of the EU enlargement process. The prospect of accession drives political and economic reforms, transforming societies and creating new opportunities for citizens and business. This was the case in the countries of Central and Eastern Europe that entered the Union in 2004 and 2007. Less than 15 years after the fall of the Berlin wall, these countries managed to establish well-functioning democracies that reflect the EU's core principles.

This was certainly the case for Greece, Spain and Portugal.  Spain was coming out of a long dictatorship; in Greece, a functioning democracy was being restored after several years of turmoil and instability during the junta. Portugal similarly had freshly emerged from an authoritarian rule of over 40 years. I believe that the European prospect played a great role in transforming these three societies, resulting in strengthened democracies. This past experience raises questions on the future. Will the EU enlargement process retain its momentum as a transformational power? Does it continue to appeal to potential EU members? Are they ready to undertake this challenge? As you can imagine, the panel will have more than a full plate, and many interesting views, I am sure.

The second session will deal with Croatia, which is due to become the 28th member on 1 July 2013. The country undertook a tremendous effort to transform itself. To quote Commissioner Füle, Croatia today is ''very different to the country that applied for accession to the European Union nearly a decade ago. A Croatia where the transformative power of the enlargement process can be clearly seen in many regards: The economy is ready to form a part of the internal market and has coped with the financial crisis…Most importantly, democratic principles and fundamental rights are respected and the rule of law has been strengthened through a number of reforms. This is the result of the hard work Croatia has done across the board.''

Croatia also serves as an example for the region. Its progress has shown the way to others. It has shown that the benefits of European integration are within their grasp.

Let me add that addressing risks of instability in the Western Balkans is manifestly in our joint interest, given the legacy of war and division which has plagued this region. The enlargement process supports the advocates of reform in the region, further entrenching its post-war democratic transition. It helps avoid the potentially far higher costs of dealing with the consequences of instability. Strengthening stability and democracy in south-east Europe is also an investment in deep and sustainable democracy in the EU’s wider neighbourhood. The Ambassador-Special Representative of Croatia for the Cypriot Presidency of the Council of the EU, His Excellency Mr Branko Baričevič and the Ambassador of the Republic of Serbia, His Excellency Mr Savo Djurica will elaborate on the transitional phase of the region and on the role the enlargement process is playing in their respective countries.

The third session brings together Cyprus and Iceland, a current and a candidate member, on an issue that has been dominating the news for quite a while now: energy. The vast gas fields that were discovered in Cyprus open a new energy chapter for the country and the EU in terms of both energy security and supply. On the other hand, Iceland has about 81% of its total primary energy supply derived from domestically produced renewable energy sources, making the country a champion in the use of Renewable Energy Sources. There are surely many lessons to be learned here, and I am certain that the panel will have a lively debate with Professor Christofides outlining the geopolitical challenges, Mr Shammas elaborating on energy regulation and Joost Korte focusing on Iceland's enlargement process.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I would like to thank you for attending today's event. As I noted, enlargement is a win-win process for the EU and the countries that become members of the Union. At the same time, it is evident that such a process also holds many challenges for both. I wish you a fruitful discussion here today.

Please also take the time to look at our photo exhibition "People and Culture" which offers a different view of the enlargement countries of Southeast Europe through images of culture, sports and everyday life.

Thank you for your attention.

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