As Enlargement Commissioner,
you are responsible for concluding accession negotiations with at
least 10 countries by the end of this year. Are things on track?
This is an enormous challenge for the candidate
countries and Member States, but I believe we will be successful.
This enlargement is better prepared than any other and, providing
progress is maintained until the end of the year, I am convinced
we will manage to complete an enlargement like no other in the history
of the EU. The European Council under the Danish Presidency has
accepted our recommendations about those countries the Commission
considers ready for accession. Between now and the Copenhagen Council
we will be working to finalise the accession talks, paving the way
for these countries to take part in the European Parliament elections
in 2004. For those not part of this first wave, the process will
continue; an updated road map and pre-accession strategy will be
put in place, together with a renewed effort to finalise negotiations.
Figures show that only four out of 56 regions
in the candidate countries have a per capita GDP of at least 75%
of the EU average. How long do you think it will take the others
to catch up?
It is hard to make such a prediction as regions
in the candidate countries, as in the EU, vary considerably - some
will prosper quicker than others. While there will be no quick fix
to these economic disparities, effective use of EU Cohesion Funds
and other funding measures will go a long way to reducing these
gaps. But of course it will up to each new Member State to make
the most of the tremendous advantages EU membership will bring;
unrestricted access to the biggest market in the world creates a
powerful dynamic for growth.
What role do you think research and development
plays in speeding up this process?
R&D is the main driver for innovation and economic
development of any industrial society. In an enlarged EU, exploiting
our knowledge, skill and entrepreneurial creativity will be key
to turning the EU into the most competitive knowledge-based economy
in the world in the next ten years, with more and better jobs and
sustainable growth. The involvement of the research community, industry,
policy-makers and other stakeholders in candidate countries is essential
if we are to meet the March 2002 Barcelona European Council objective
of raising average EU R&D spending to 3% of European GDP. Recent
studies (see "The
Lisbon Review 2002-2003: An Assessment of Policies and Reforms in
Europe", World Economic Forum, September 2002) suggest that,
while some candidate countries compare well to the EU in information
society and telecommunications, others will face a challenging task
in stepping up their R&D expenditure - as will some Member States,
Within FP6, candidate countries will be
treated under exactly the same conditions as Member States, making
research the first EU policy to be fully open in this way. While
the negotiations are not yet completed, can we say that enlargement
is already a reality within the European Research Area?
Actually enlargement in the research domain was
already a reality under FP5. Researchers from candidate countries
and Member States participated in FP5 projects under the same conditions.
Under FP6, active participation of the candidate countries from
day one is essential. This is in the interests of us all. The new
instruments put in place by FP6 to ensure greater coherence between
research efforts across Europe will benefit candidate countries,
as the focus will not be on the size of project, but on integrated
projects. FP6 encourages closer links between researchers, pooling
of resources, and collaboration among different countries, essential
if the Union and candidate countries are to compete both scientifically
and economically in the global market place.
Are the financial contributions of the candidate
countries already fixed for FP6? Will the EU's Phare programme continue
to finance their participation?
The Commission will offer candidate countries
a reduction of 30% and 20% during the first two years of FP6. There
will be no reduction during the last two years, but this could be
reviewed in 2004. Candidate countries from central and eastern Europe
will also have the possibility to use Phare funds to cover part
of their contribution.