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image European Research News Centre > European Research Policy > Historic enlargement on track
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image image image Date published: 07/11/02
  image Historic enlargement on track
RTD info special
"EU enlargement"
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  Interview with Enlargement Commissioner, Günter Verheugen.
     
   

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, in fact.

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.

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Enlargement Commissioner, Günter Verheugen.

Enlargement Commissioner, Günter Verheugen.

 


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