In this issue
To help everyone to keep track of the EU's continuing enlargement process, this newsletter is published by the European Commission's Enlargement Directorate General. It provides a topical and lively account of the progress, the problems, the preparations and the politics of enlargement. ENLARGEMENT NEWS appears twice a month, highlighting key developments in the EU, the member states and the aspirant countries. To receive this free newsletter regularly on your computer, just suscribe here.
Rehn salutes Croatian election
"I welcome that once again the elections in Croatia were conducted in an orderly manner and in accordance with international standards", said European Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn on November 26, citing the preliminary assessment of election observers from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
Looking forward to the rapid formation of a new government, the Commissioner welcomed "the broad consensus on the process of accession to the European Union which exists among all the main political actors". He said he trusted the future government "will strive for EU membership and work on fulfilling the necessary criteria in order to meet the ambitious targets which Croatia has set for itself". The Commission would continue to be fully engaged in supporting these efforts, he confirmed.
Neither outgoing Prime Minister Ivo Sanader's Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) nor the opposition centre-left Social Democrats achieved a clear majority in parliament in the November 25 election. Initial results suggested that HDZ had obtained 61 seats and the Social Democrats 56, but votes by Croats living abroad are likely to add 5 more seats to the HDZ total.
"Negotiations with Croatia are advancing well and are entering a decisive phase. Croatia is demonstrating with its progress to the region as a whole that the European perspective is indeed real and tangible", European Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn told the European Parliament's foreign affairs committee on November 21. But he added that the country still has work to do on judicial and public administration reform, in the fight against corruption, on refugee return and minority rights. "We also hope that Croatia will soon be able to meet the outstanding benchmarks so that some of the more difficult chapters (such as competition policy and public procurement) can be opened. If Croatia achieves the necessary results, substantial progress in the accession negotiations can be made in 2008", he predicted.
European Parliament President Hans-Gert Pöttering met Vladimir Drobnjak, Croatia's chief accession negotiator, in Brussels on November 21.
Croatia has signed an agreement on strengthening judicial co-operation with Eurojust, intended to increase the effectiveness of their response to combating serious forms of international, cross-border and organised crime. José Luis Lopes da Mota, newly elected President of the College of Eurojust, confirmed the added value of this agreement: “I am delighted that Eurojust has been able to conclude this agreement with Croatia, an important partner", he said. "The agreement is particularly important because Croatia is a candidate country".
Talks continue on Kosovo status
In the run-up to the December 10 deadline set by the United Nations, talks are continuing on the future status of Kosovo. Leaders from Belgrade and from Pristina went into an extended session of closed-door talks that started near Vienna on November 26, under the auspices of the EU-US-Russia troika.
This follows the limited progress at the November 20 talks in Brussels, after which a statement from the troika noted that several hours of direct dialogue had taken place between the parties, as well as separate troika meetings with each side. Pristina described its vision of Kosovo's supervised independence in line with the recommendations of UN Special Envoy Martti Ahtisaari, while Belgrade continued to elaborate its vision of a highly autonomous Kosovo inside the borders of Serbia. The troika also "reaffirmed its commitment to make a vigorous effort to reach an agreement between the parties."
Prior to the November 20 meeting, European Ministers for Foreign Affairs at the General Affairs and External Relations Council on November 19 backed the efforts of the troika and of its European representative Wolfgang Ischinger to find a political solution. Luis Amado, Portuguese Minister for Foreign Affairs and President-in-office of the Council, underlined that "a common European position is a very important factor of stability in this process". He pointed out that Ambassador Ischinger is exploring all possibilities "so that the legitimacy of this process will be accepted by all the parties".
In the light of outstanding differences on the United Nations Security Council over Kosovo, it was decided to engage in further negotiations between Pristina and Belgrade. This effort, launched by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on 1 August 2007, is led by a troika representing the European Union, Russia and the United States. The representatives are Ambassador Wolfgang Ischinger (EU), Ambassador Alexander Botsan-Kharchenko (Russia) and Ambassador Frank Wisner (US). The outcome will be reported on to the UN Secretary General by 10 December.
Referring to the deadline of December 10 for the troika's report to the United Nations, Javier Solana, EU High Representative, said that the EU would prefer a Security Council resolution to back a solution. "But it is not up to us. We cannot decide to have a Security Council resolution", he accepted. Without agreement among the members of the Security Council, "life will have to go on", he said. "We will find a way to help the process of stabilisation in Kosovo with the EU mission. This has to be done in line with the international legislation and we will do that."
Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn welcomed the "peaceful and orderly manner" of the November 17 elections for members of the 120-seat Kosovo Assembly, but regretted the boycott by Kosovo Serbs. He called on them to take a constructive role in Kosovo's future, and on the elected politicians to work smoothly for the rapid formation of a new government. "We urge the democratically elected authorities to work constructively for a sustainable status settlement as well as to facilitate progress on European integration", he said.
The EU's November 19 External Relations Council similarly expressed disappointment at the low overall voter turnout. Javier Solana, EU High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy, said he too was concerned about the low turnout, which, he said, "reflects a widespread dissatisfaction of the population with the political elite".
The elections met international standards, according to international observers, but less than half of the 1.5 million eligible voters cast their ballot. The poll was largely boycotted by the Serb minority, and participation among the Albanian Kosovars - who make up 90% of the population - was described as "alarmingly low" by MEP Doris Pack, one of the European Parliament team on the spot. Initial results put Hashim Thaci's Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK) first with 34% of the vote, ahead of President Fatmir Sejdiu's Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) on 22%.
The General Affairs and External Relations Council of November 19 in Brussels also confirmed that the EU stands ready to play a significant role in Kosovo in the future and is preparing accordingly. Ministers welcomed the progress made in planning for a possible European Security and Defence Policy Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo, and extended the mandate of the EU's planning team until 31 March 2008. They also extended the joint action allowing for preparations for a possible international civilian mission in Kosovo.
“Enlarge your vision” competition for young journalists
The European Commission's Directorate-General for Enlargement has launched a competition for young European journalists on the subject of EU enlargement. In cooperation with the European Youth Press Association, an umbrella organisation of 48,000 young journalists in Europe, the aim is to encourage young journalists to reflect and express their views on the EU's enlargement policy.
The competition is open to journalists aged 17-27 from 35 European countries: all the EU member states and from Croatia, Turkey, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Serbia and Kosovo. They are invited to submit an article on EU enlargement published between January 2007 and 15 March 2008. In April 2008, national juries of media representatives will select a winning article for each country and these articles will be published on the competition website. All 35 winners will be invited on a joint trip through Balkan countries and will have the opportunity to participate in a closing conference with media representatives in June 2008.
Participants can enter the competition on a specially-created website: www.EUjournalist-award.eu.
Announcing the competition on November 15, European Commissioner for Enlargement Olli Rehn said: “I look forward to learning more about the views of young journalists on the enlargement policy. They are important opinion-leaders for their generation. I would like to invite them to share their experiences and visions of our common European future. Their ideas will further nourish the debates that will determine the shape of our continent.”
Albania's President promises moderating role
Albania will continue to play its moderating role in the Balkans, promised Albanian President Bamir Topi, when met EU High Representative Javier Solana in Brussels on November 21. He was responding to an invitation from Solana for Albania to continue exercising its constructive regional role, particularly in relation to Kosovo. Solana underlined that the Stabilisation and Association Agreement provides Albania with a framework to progress towards the EU and encouraged Albania to show determination in the reform process . "The implementation of this agreement should bring a push to the reforms that still are needed in Albania ", said Solana. He particularly mentioned the fight against organised crime and corruption and the judicial and, electoral reforms and stressed the need for enhanced political co-operation.
Solana also welcomed the policy that Topi had adopted since his election in July of being a President for all citizens of Albania across the political spectrum. The High Representative emphasised the importance of political dialogue in deepening the country's internal progress.
On 14-15 December, the Albanian government, NGOs, experts and journalists in Albania are taking part in two events to highlight the plight of children caught up in age old blood feuds in the north of the country, and to look for new ways to help the victims. According to the European Commission 2007 Progress Report on Albania, the number of children involved in such revenge killingskept at home due to blood feuds and thus deprived of their right of education has decreased over the past years but still stood at 87 in 2007.
Presidency hopes for Turkey talks in December
The Portuguese Presidency is hoping to open further chapters in the accession negotiations with Turkey on December 18, according to Luis Amado, Portuguese Minister for Foreign Affairs. He was speaking after an exchange of views on Turkey's reform process at the EU-Turkey ministerial troika meeting in Brussels on November 20. "We think it is possible, and we want it to be possible", he said. "We are very much engaged in maintaining this process on track and it is fundamental in our view to open some more chapters during the Portuguese Presidency".
European Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn underlined the importance of Turkey relaunching the reform process "now that there is a new government with a strong popular mandate after the elections". Turkey's foreign affairs minister Ali Babacan responded with a statement of his country's "determination to align with the EU acquis". He also remarked "political issues should not put an obstacle in the way of our accession process", and that "all the chapters that are technically ready should be opened for negotiations". Commissioner Rehn also met the Turkish foreign minister the same day to discuss the Commission's November 6 progress report, which urged Ankara to revitalise reform efforts and particularly to improve freedom of expression, civilian control of the military and the rights of non-Muslim religious communities.
Turkey has emerged remarkably smoothly from its constitutional and political tensions of earlier this year, European Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn told the European Parliament's foreign affairs committee November 21. "Now the time has come for Turkey to regenerate the momentum of the reform process", he went on, highlighting "the reforms that are urgently needed, such as freedom of expression and of religion". In particular, he said, "Article 301 of the Penal Code must be revised without delay, in line with the European Convention on human rights. Freedom of expression is fundamentally important – that is why the Commission proposed that a revision of article 301 as an opening benchmark for Chapter 23 (judiciary and fundamental rights) in the accession negotiations with Turkey. Now, the issue is in the hands of the Turkish Government and Parliament. They have a clear incentive and an interest in making progress."
Amado also urged continued contacts on broader issues: "We believe that the EU and Turkey have a lot to gain through dialoguing and converging their positions in relation to peace and stability in the region".
The European Investment Bank is to open representative offices in Ankara and Istanbul, to help respond to financing needs of public and private customers and strengthen cooperation with local institutions and partners. The EIB commenced operations in Turkey more than 40 years ago, and it lent €7 billion in 2000-2007, making Turkey by far the largest recipient country of EIB financing outside the EU. EIB investments in Turkey are scheduled to reach a record €2 billion in 2007.
Serbia after the initialling of the SAA
"The EU is willing to sign the agreement as soon as possible, provided that the necessary conditions are met", said the EU Presidency in the wake of the initialling of the Stabilisation and Association Agreement with Serbia on November 7. "In this regard, the EU Presidency calls on the Serbian authorities to strengthen their efforts in order to rapidly achieve full cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia."
The Presidency warmly welcomed the initialling by the European Commission and the Serbian representatives of agreement as "an important step towards the establishment of contractual relations between the EU and Serbia, which demonstrates the EU's firm commitment to Serbia's European perspective." It reaffirmed that "Serbia's future lies within the EU and that the Union stands ready to work closely with Serbia towards this goal."
At a ceremony to mark the occasion in Brussels, European Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn described the initialling as "the first stepping stone towards the path of the European integration and the gateway towards candidate status in the European Union." The agreement "is about creating concrete benefits for Serbian people and creating pre-conditions for uniting not only states but also people in the very true European spirit", said the Commissioner. Now, he added, "We need a convincing track record of the implementation of the SAA before we can consider a candidate status for Serbia". There has been intensified cooperation with the ICTY, but "It's not the end of the road", said Rehn. "Full cooperation with ICTY remains the necessary condition for the signature of the SAA."
"The satisfactory implementation of the SAA will be Serbia’s gateway to the next stage towards the EU", Rehn told the European Parliament's foreign affairs committee November 21. "I am convinced that the country can make great strides, as we have said in our Progress Report, but Serbia should now meet its international obligation to fully cooperate with the ICTY, leading to the arrest of the remaining indictees. By initialling the SAA now, we put the ball to Serbia's court. We are ready to move to next phase, once Serbia is ready by meeting the political conditions. It is in the hands of the leaders of Serbia."
The SAA will bring trade and economic benefits, including a free trade area, easing conditions for investment and boosting job creation for citizens of Serbia. Already the EU is allocating around € 190 million per year in aid to Serbia for promotion of stability and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms, the economic and social development of the country, cross-border cooperation with neighbour countries and the reform of the public administration.
Bozidar Djelic, Serbian deputy prime minister, visited European Regional Policy Commissioner Danuta Hübner in Brussels on November 19 for talks on Serbia's integration in the field of regional policy. "On behalf of the Commission, I welcome the fact that Serbia has chosen regional development as a priority on its agenda", the Commissioner said, stressing the importance of high quality administration, not only at national but also at regional and local level.
Continued concerns on Bosnia and Herzegovina
"While the security situation remains stable, the current political situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina raises considerable concerns", European Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn told the European Parliament's foreign affairs committee on November 21. The resignation of Prime Minister Spiric and the threat by the Republika Srpska to withdraw from the State institutions are potentially damaging, he said.
Given the political tensions in the country, it was no great surprise that the Commission's Progress Report was critical, Rehn continued. The report underlined that the country had failed to properly address the majority of the priorities in its European Partnership. "It is now important to calm the situation down and avoid further escalation", said Rehn. "Bosnia and Herzegovina has lost much time already on its reform agenda."
The Commissioner suggested there was an opportunity in the Declaration signed in Mostar on 28 October by the country's main party leaders. "I believe that party leaders present in Mostar understood the gravity of their country's situation and that this was their key motivation for striking a consensus on police reform in accordance with the EU's three principles. The Mostar Declaration can be a basis for taking forward the Stabilisation and Association Agreement."
The General Affairs and External Relations Council also expressed "grave concern" over the deteriorating political situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina at its November 19 meeting. It underlined the responsibility of the country's political leaders "to stop undermining the foundations of the State, to ensure the full functioning of State institutions and to advance reforms which are essential for Bosnia and Herzegovina to move forward." EU ministers reiterated their full support for Special Representative Miroslav Lajcak and "underlined the need for all parties, including those in the Republika Srpska, to fully respect and promptly implement his decisions".
The General Affairs and External Relations Council welcomed the successful reconfiguration of Operation Althea in Bosnia and Herzegovina, where the force now numbers some 2500 troops on the ground, backed up by over-the-horizon reserves. The Council also welcomed the contribution of the European Gendarmerie Force to the Integrated Police Unit of Operation Althea. It insisted that EUFOR remains ready to respond to possible security challenges throughout the country, and that the EU would retain a military presence in the country for as long as necessary in order to continue to contribute to the maintenance of a safe and secure environment. The Council also extended the mandate of the EU Police Mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina until the end of 2009.
At the General Affairs and External Relations Council, Javier Solana, EU High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy, spoke of the "rhetoric" of some political leaders, delays in the reform process, problems with the functioning of state institutions, the resignation of the Chair of the Council of Ministers and delays in implementing the EU reform agenda. "We must maintain a consistent line that reminds the political leadership of their obligations to uphold the constitutional order", he said. "Police reform is a key condition for moving on". Against this political background, it is all the more important to have a strong EU presence in the country, to promote the country's EU perspective, added Solana. "Public opinion is on our side", he said; "They want the EU and they want progress."
The European Parliament's Committee on Foreign Affairs held discussions with Miroslav Lajcák, the EU Special Representative in Bosnia and Herzegovina, on November 26. The Special Representative also visited European Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn on November 27 for consultations about the political situation in the country.
Dialogue needed in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia
"I welcome progress made by the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia for example in the fight against corruption", European Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn told the European Parliament's foreign affairs committee on November 21. "Yet continuing political tensions in the country have been delaying reforms. We need a more constructive and inclusive political dialogue, so that reforms will gather a new momentum in 2008. This is a must before considering any move to the next stage towards the EU", he went on.
Montenegro moves ahead on Stabilisation and Association Agreement
The November 19 General Affairs and External Relations Council adopted a regulation on procedures for applying the EU-Montenegro Stabilisation and Association Agreement and interim trade agreement. It covers concessions and safeguard clauses. The Council also approved the position to be adopted in the EU-Montenegro interim trade committee on its rules of procedure, including the terms of reference and structure of subcommittees. The EU-Montenegro interim agreement on trade and trade-related matters was signed on 15 October in Luxembourg. It establishes an interim committee to supervise implementation of the agreement.
Stability Pact winds up its working tables
The final meeting of the three Working Tables of the Stability Pact for South Eastern Europe will take place on 3-4 December in Tirana, and will give special attention to past achievements, lessons learnt and challenges remaining as the Regional Co-operation Council (RCC) takes over the Stability Pact's various initiatives and task forces next year. Special Co-ordinator of the Stability Pact Erhard Busek as well as incoming Secretary General of the RCC Hido Biscevic will present the next steps on "The Road Ahead –Reinforcing the Regional Co-operation Agenda" in a final panel discussion.
The discussions in Working Table I will focus on the eight years of the Stability Pact’s involvement in democratisation and human rights. Working Table II will look at developments in the overall economic environment in the region with a panel drawn from the public and private sector from the region and the international community. Most of the Working Table III agenda will be dedicated to the Stability Pact’s activities in the area of fighting against organised crime and corruption, regional co-operation in the area of law enforcement, and judiciary. Progress on regional co-operation in the area of defence and security sector reform will also be discussed.
The November 19 General Affairs and External Relations Council adopted a decision on the reappointment of Erhard Busek as special coordinator of the Stability Pact for South-Eastern Europe from 1 January to 30 June 2008.