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THE PROCESS OF THE ENLARGEMENT OF THE EU

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The process of the Enlargement of the EU

Determining factors

Careful scrutiny of preceding EU enlargements and the processes involved has shown that there are five factors that have always played a important role and that the course and outcome of these factors have been a huge influence on the whole process. We want to use this knowledge to create a small model designed to help us to understand the enlargement process better.




One of the first determining factors is the contractual basis, that is, the internal EU rules that are used to determine how the enlargement process should proceed in detail. When it comes to making an enlargement decision, for example, it is is important to remember that it makes a large difference whether unanimity has to be reached or whether a majority of votes will suffice and whose agreement is needed.

Although the contracts have always contained rules on enlargement, it would be quite wrong to get the impression that the EEC, EC and now the EU and their member states have always been working tirelessly and continually towards expanding its membership numbers. The reason for this is clearly to be found in concerns held by the existing members that expanding the membership would lead to more heterogeneity and make cooperation considerably more difficult. Indeed, it is for this very reason that discussions about new applications have always been set against the question as to how far enlargement would have a negative effect on progress toward further integration. This tension between enlargement on one side and closer cooperation (deepening) on the other forms the second determining factor for our model.

Having said this, however, previous European expansions make it very clear indeed that decisions on whether to admit new members have never been solely based on objective considerations between enlargement on the one side and deepening of the integration process on the other. No, the position adopted by existing members has always been dependent on three other core aspects or issues:

The first of these factors is the special interests held by member states in individual areas, such as real fears that certain areas of a national economy could be placed at a competitive disadvantage because of more competitive products coming from new member states. Agriculture is a good case in point when thinking back to the resistance demonstrated by France against enlargement to the south.

National interests are another factor, that is, that enlargement can limit the possibilities of individual member states to influence the decision-making process. An example of this reflected in the issue of how voting should be weighted in the Council.

The last factor is fears held by member states and all other players such as the Commission and the European Parliament as to what degree enlargement might impact on the ability of the EU system to make decisions.

I. Enlargement to the NORTH

The first phase of expansion that we will be looking at is enlargement to the north. The UK's first application was made in 1961, only four years after the Treaty of Rome had come into force. Eleven years would pass, however, before Great Britain, Denmark and Ireland were finally able to join. But what were the reasons for this?

One of the biggest stumbling blocks was the determined resistance displayed by the French President, de Gaulle. While economic motives might also have played a part, the main reasons for this resistance were political and above all the fear that by allowing Great Britain - a country with a 'special' relationship to the USA' - to become a member of the Community, the United States would be able to influence the development of the Community. This stood in stark contrast to de Gaulle's fundamental belief that the EC should be structured as cooperation between sovereign states independent of American influence.

In contrast, other member states and the Commission thought that membership of the U.K. would offer a welcome counterbalance to French dominance. In other words: The position of member states was characterised by their basic attitudes to the future direction of EC development. The potential membership of the U.K. was viewed as something that could either strengthen or weaken the individual position of member states and not as a complex of problems in its own right.

Over the long-term, however, France was unable to prevent expansion. De Gaulle's successor, Georges Pompidou, agreed to restart negotiations at The Hague Summit Meeting in 1969. One of the most decisive factors for this agreement was that it was possible to take the interests of all member states into account as part of a large package deal. In return for France's consent to enlargement, the package deal included the agreement of all other member states to complete and further expand the scope of the Common Agricultural Policy. This means that extraordinarily important sectorial interests were at stake.

All the same, Great Britain and Denmark clearly held a totally different view on what the role of the Community should be. They both regarded the EC primarily as an economic community, from which they hoped to achieve economical benefit. Both countries were totally against allowing any further erosion of national sovereignty. In both countries the very membership of the EC represented an issue on which public opinion was deeply divided. Indeed, it was mainly this situation - set against the need to reach unanimous decisions - that was responsible for the series of crises and stagnation in the Community's development during the 70s and at the beginning of the 80s

II. Enlargement to the South

While the desirability of British membership was being called into question, the membership of Greece, Spain and Portugal, otherwise known as the enlargement to the south, was, for politically strategic reasons, regarded unanimously as a positive and necessary move. Concerns were being raised, however, as to the possible economic and institutional consequences of the expansion south. The level of economic development of all three countries was considerably lower than the Community average; in addition to this, it was feared that three more members would mean increased heterogeneity. This coupled with a significant increase in its membership, led many people to believe that the efficiency of the institutions and the decision-making processes would be impaired.

The biggest influence on the expansion south was caused by internal difficulties within the Community at the beginning of the 80s. In reality the arguments were really about fundamental differences over the direction of future integration. These problems caused accession negotiations to be delayed on numerous occasions and it was not until 1984 and the Summit in Fontainebleau, where it was decided to move towards an internal market and the Single European Act, that a firm date could be agreed upon for the membership of Spain and Portugal - the 1st of January 1986. Here, too, enlargement to the south had an impact on the way in which the Community would develop. Individual policy areas, in particular the Common Agricultural Policy were affected the most. Regional policy had to be expanded in order to gain approval from the new members on the internal market - and much more besides.



When we look at the factors influencing enlargement to the south in our graphic, it is clear that all the determinants played a role in the process this time.

Because the Treaty required that all member states had to reach a unanimous decision, agreement was made very difficult because of the differing attitudes and interests involved. Tension between enlargement and deepening. The first was only possible with a simultaneous move towards deeper cooperation (SEA and internal market). Sectorial interests, particularly in agriculture. National interests with regards to the EU's further development. Should the future direction of the EU take on a more intergovernmental character, concentrating mainly on economic benefits - in line with with what Britain and Denmark wanted - or should it make further steps towards deepening cooperation including the integration of the political dimension in line with what countries such as Germany wanted.
And finally fears about the EU system becoming incapable of making decisions set against the background of large growth in the Community's heterogeneity with the enlargement of the EU to the south.

All in all, it can be said that the most unproblematic expansion of all was the last in which Austria, Sweden and Finland joined. The relationship between the countries belonging to the EFTA and the Community had been governed since 1972 in the form of bilateral free trade agreements, which were replaced in January 1994 by an agreement on the European Economic Area (EEA). This means, then, that trade relationships had been very close for a long time; many of the EU's regulations, especially those connected to the internal market, had been adopted by these three countries as part of the EEA agreement before their membership. Moreover, all three countries boasted a relatively high level of economic development. One of the most important potential political problems had been their neutral status, but this problem had faded greatly since the fall of the Berlin wall and the end of the Cold War. Indeed, given the interest of these countries in issues such as transparency and social and environmental policy, many expected new impetus for existing EU policies.

III. Enlargement to the East

The 2004 enlargement process was trigged by the collapse of communism in Central and Eastern Europe, by the process of transformation and the severe economic and social problems that followed this collapse and by an understandable desire on the part of these countries to receive help and support from the West. The first response of the EU to this new situation was to enter into a bilateral Association Agreement with a large number of CEEC countries. The core objective of the Europe Agreement was to establish a large European market encompassing all associated states. A great deal was expected of these countries: They were expected to adopt the rules of the internal market and to restructure fundamentally their domestic economies. To do this, the EU granted these countries financial aid within the scope of a number of programs.

Having started out as a policy of association, financial aid and identifying common areas of interest, this position changed fundamentally following a decision taken by the European Council of Copenhagen in June 1993. Here the decision was taken to offer all associated CEECs the possibility of EU membership, provided they could fulfil certain conditions, or rather, the accession criteria. These criterion included:

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a stable institutional structure based on democracy, guaranteeing human rights and minority rights;

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a working market economy and

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the CEEC countries were also expected to a make themselves ready to adopt EU law in its entirety and to adopt the aims of political union and economic and monetary union.

The following illustration summarizes developments up to this point in time.

Once the Central and East European countries had made an official application to join the EU between 1994 and 1996 (Cyprus and Malta made their applications in 1990), the European Council requested the Commission to prepare a report in accordance with Treaty requirements. The objective of this report was to scrutinize the situation in each of the potential candidate countries and to determine the degree to which they met the membership criterion and whether or not they were in a position to take on the responsibilities and obligations of membership

The Commission published these reports in July 1997 in a document called „Agenda 2000“. Based on the membership critereon laid down by the Copenhagen European Council, the Agenda 2000 comes to the conclusion that Hungary, Poland, Estonia, the Czech Republic and Slovakia might be in a position to meet the conditions set out and, initially at least, recommends beginning accession negotiations with these countries plus Cyprus. Nevertheless, this report also makes it clear that just because negotiations will begin at the same time does not necessarily mean that they will reach a conclusion at the same time. According to the report, the speed at which a conclusion is reached should depend on the progress made in each individual country.

In addition to a large number of recommendations from the Commission in its Agenda 2000 document aimed at involving the applicant countries in enlargement process, the European Council decided at the end of 1997 in Brussels to adopt a proposal to convene bilateral intergovernmental conferences to begin negotiations with those countries that were well on the way to fulfilling the necessary requirements. These countries were Cyprus, Hungary, Poland, Estonia, the Czech Republic and Slovenia. Negotiations with this 'first wave' of applicant countries - the so-called 'Luxemburg Group' - began in the spring of 1998.
In December 1999, Heads of State and Government meeting in Helsinki decided to enter into membership negotiations with the 'second wave' nations, also known as the 'Helsinki Group', (Bulgaria, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Rumania and Slovakia). Accession negotiations officially began with these countries on the 15th of February 2000 in Brussels.



In November 2000 the Commission  published a strategy paper on enlargement containing a 'road map' designed to ensure that the EU would be in a position to receive new members starting at the end of 2002. The European Council of Nice approved this strategy paper. The European Council of Nice was also responsible for the Treaty of Nice (ratified on 26.02.01), which was drawn up to ready the EU for enlargement and which involved institutional modifications among others.

The European Council of Laeken in December 2001 concluded by declaring that the enlargement process was irreversible and emphasised the determination of the EU to conclude the current membership negotiations by the end of 2002

In terms of our determining factors, another interesting fact is that this Summit meeting also reached agreement on setting up a convention on the future of the EU, which was charged with preparing an intergovernmental conference in 2003/2004 to address the issue of a European Constitution. Another very interesting point here is the fact that the membership candidates were also invited to take part in the convention, without being given the opportunity to block solutions that had been reached amicably between the existing member states.

The next important stage along the road to enlargement was the European Council of Copenhagen in December 2002. The accession negotiations with the ten candidate nations were completed, the 1st of May 2004 was set for their membership and the financial agreement for 2004 - 2006 was finally agreed upon. This represented the first really difficult moment in the new 25-member-state Union. In addition to this, the European Council also set 2007 as the date for the membership of Bulgaria and Rumania and decided that the decision as to possible negotiations with Turkey should be dropped based on a report by the Commission in December 2004. Moreover, the conclusions of the Presidency stated that the new member states should be completely involved in the intergovernmental conference concerned with preparing and adopting a European Constitution.

After the European Parliament, whose approval is absolutely necessary, agreed, the heads of state and government and foreign ministers of the member states and the ten membership candidates signed the accession contract on the 16th of April 2003 at a ceremony in Athens.

The accession contract also contained rules on how the 10 new member states would take part in the EU institutions from the signing of the contract until the official membership date of the 1st of May 2004. During this period the new member states held official observer status in all of the Council's committees and included the right to expression. But they were not entitled to take part in voting.

The next decisive hurdle for the continuation of the accession process was the referendums to be held in nine of the membership candidate countries (with the exception of Cyprus, which had decided not to hold a referendum) which would decide on the membership contract that had been negotiated and on whether or not each country would join the EU. The following illustration gives the results of these referendums.

It should also be pointed out that these referendums demonstrate clearly that the enlargement process was by no means a phenomenon that was restricted to the government level! On the contrary, the national parliaments and, indeed, the citizens of the countries holding a referendum were very much involved, meaning that the governments were forced into making sure that a majority of their population were in favour of the expansionary course. This also applied, of course, to the existing member states. This means, then, that the enlargement process involved and linked a number of different levels together. Indeed, this is a very decisive point and one that makes analysis so difficult!

Specific features of the enlargement to the East

As far as the special characteristics of enlargement to the east is concerned, the first major factor is the number of applicant countries, which is four times higher than any single previous expansion of the Union. The large number of applicant countries created enormous problems while trying to balance out inter-Community interests. Membership of so many new countries has increased the EU's already pronounced heterogeneity on a massive scale.

The CEEC countries that joined the EU a few months ago are undergoing a far-reaching process of transformation. This process includes state institutions, administrations and economies, whose future role in a free-enterprise system still partially remains to be defined and which demonstrates a very fragile and unfinished character. Yet state institutions, administrations and economies have to work reliably for the implementation and control of the EU's regulations. These clear administrative weaknesses even in the applicant countries that have made most progress means that grave difficulties look certain to arise during the implementation of the EU's structural policy, as one example.

Moreover, there is also the issue of the low level of economic development in the new member states, which, at only 32 percent of the EU's average GDP per capita, means they will be in need of long-term support. More than in any of the previous expansions, the EU will become a development Community. If we take a look at some of the concrete problems that will face the EU as a result we can see that these are most pronounced in agricultural and structural policies, which can be highlighted with only a few numbers.

Turing once again to the huge discrepancies in the level of wealth among current and potential member states. Big differences already exist within the EU. Denmark's gross domestic product (GDP) per capita, for example, is 25% higher than the EU average (125%), whereas Portugal and Greece only manage half the average (50%). GDP per capita in Poland and Hungary, which have made most progress among the applicant countries, is only half of the GDP in these, the poorest EU member states!

Should these two areas of agriculture and structural policy be dealt with in the same way as for Portugal and Greece, this would trigger additional annual costs of around one third of the current EU budget (100 billion euros in 2004)! The lion's share of this transfer would go into agricultural policy. One of the reasons for this is the number of people working in this sector. In Poland, for instance, and while also bearing in mind that it is one of the countries that has made the most progress, around a fifth of its population work in agriculture - the EU average is only 5 percent.



These examples have provided a sufficiently clear picture of the scale of the difficulties connected with the enlargement program and it is obvious that sweeping internal reforms are needed to the EU.

Romania – Member State of the European Union from 1 January 2007

On 26 September, the European Commission issued its last Monitoring Report which re-confirms 1 January 2007 as the date of Romania’s accession to the EU. Thus, the Commission points out that, in the light of the progress made, Romania will be in the position to assume, starting with 1 January 2007, the rights and obligations deriving from EU membership

The Report of the Commission acknowledges that Romania has made significant progress in all the areas of concern highlighted in the Report of 16 May 2006 (reform of the judicial system, the fight against corruption, taxation, and agriculture), as well as regarding all three accession criteria. Romania fulfils the political criteria and is on track with regard to the economic criteria and the acquis. Also, the Report provides details on the accompanying measures stated in the Accession Treaty or the community acquis, that could be adopted, if necessary, in cases of non-compliance with the commitments.  Currently, ensuring a quality integration in the European Union remains Romania’s priority objective. 

In order to meet this objective, Romania is committed to:

  • Continue the pace of the internal preparation, in order to ensure the real integration and functioning into the Union after accession.  
  • Finalize the process of ratification of the Accession Treaty before the end of 2006 so that accession becomes possible on the 1 January 2007. 
  • Prepare for EU membership by putting to good use the experience gained as an active observer to the works of the European institutions. 

State of Play - Accession Process 

In December 2004, Romania closed the accession negotiations to the European Union. The European Council of 16-17 December 2004 reconfirmed 1 January 2007 as the date of Romania’s accession to the EU.  

  Chronology of Romania-EU relations

On 25 April 2005, Romania and Bulgaria, together with the representatives of the 25 member states of the Union, signed in Luxemburg the Treaty of Accession to the European Union. The signing of the Accession Treaty came after the assent of the European Parliament on 13 April 2005, given by an absolute majority of votes.

Currently, ratification of the Accession Treaty by the EU Member States has entered the final stage. Until now, the Treaty was ratified by 22 Member States, namely: Slovakia (21 June 2005), Hungary (26 September 2005), Slovenia (29 September 2005), Cyprus (27 October 2005), Greece (2 November 2005), Estonia (16 November 2005), Czech Republic (6 December 2005), Spain (14 December 2005), Italy (22 December 2005), Malta (24 January 2006), Latvia (26 January 2006), United Kingdom (16 February 2006), Portugal (8 March 2006), Lithuania (30 March 2006), Poland (30 March 2006), Sweden (9 May 2006), Austria (11 May 2006), the Netherlands (13 June 2006), Finland (19 June 2006), Ireland (21 June 2006), Luxemburg (29 June 2006) and France (3 October 2006).

Romania’s progress in the accession preparations were monitored by the Commission by means of the same instruments used for the 10 states that acceded to the EU in 2004 – monitoring reports, early warning letter, peer-review missions, and consultations on specific issues.

The first Monitoring Report was issued by the Commission on 25 October 2005 and was followed, on 7 November 2005, by an early warning letter that highlighted, in the light of the findings of the Report, the priority areas where Romania had to continue the preparations for accession. The second Monitoring Report was presented on 16 May 2006 and stated that Romania will be ready for accession on 1 January 2007 provided that a number of outstanding issues are addressed. The last Monitoring Report of the Commission was published on 26 September 2006 and re-confirmed 1 January 2007 as the accession date of Romania to the EU.

Romania – active observer in the institutions of the European Union  

After the signing of the Accession Treaty, Romania became an acceding state and was granted the status of active observer to the activities of the Union. Romania is associated to the works of all community institutions, at the political and technical level (The EU Council and its sectorial bodies, the working bodies of the European Commission, European Parliament, Committee of the Regions and the Economic and Social Committee). Also, the association to the great policy lines of the Union (the Hague Program, the Lisbon Strategy, the Sustainable Development Strategy etc) represents an important challenge for Romania.

Future of Europe  

Romania’s accession to the EU takes place at a time marked by the debate on the Constitution and the future of Europe. European institutions, member states, representatives of the civil society and the academia participate together in the debate. In this respect, the European Commission has adopted the White Paper on the European Communication Policy that targets the improvement of the communication deficit between the Union and its citizens.



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