Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum submitted by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office

  1.  In March 1999, the Foreign Affairs Committee concluded their enquiry into European Union enlargement by urging the Government:

    "to continue to work actively to maintain and strengthen the commitment of the EU Member States to the enlargement process and to work jointly with other key countries such as Germany to provide strategic direction and momentum to the process"

  2.  The Prime Minister, in his speech in Warsaw on 6 October, set out the UK approach to enlargement:

    "Nobody who considers how the European Union has underpinned peace and democracy in the reconstruction of post war western Europe can doubt the benefits that enlargement will bring to post-cold war Europe and the Balkans.

    Nobody who considers the role that open markets have played in generating wealth and prosperity in the European Union can doubt the benefits of creating a market of half a billion consumers.

    Without enlargement Western Europe will always be faced with the threat of instability, conflict and mass migration on its borders. Without enlargement the political consensus behind economic and political reform in the weaker transition countries may splinter.

    Should that happen, we would all lose."

  3.  This note, the first of a series of six-monthly progress reports on enlargement covers:

    —  progress in negotiations since the publication of the Committee's report in March 1999;

    —  a summary of the performance of the candidates;

    —  the UK's activities in promoting the enlargement process; and

    —  the next steps.


  4.  When the Committee published its report in March 1999, the EU was negotiating with six countries: Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Estonia and Cyprus—the "Luxembourg Six". At that stage negotiations had been opened on five of the 31 chapters of the "acquis" (the EU's legislation and practice). By January 2001, 29 chapters had been opened.

  5.  At the Helsinki European Council in December 1999, the EU decided to begin negotiations with a further six candidate countries: Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Slovakia, Romania and Bulgaria—the "Helsinki Six". Since then, the EU has opened between nine and 16 chapters with each of them. The charts at Annex 1 summarise progress.

1 summarise progress.

  6.  In October 2000, the Commission published a "Strategy for Enlargement" document which assessed progress in each of the candidates and proposed a "roadmap" for the negotiations, dividing the remaining issues and chapters between the Swedish (Jan-June 2001), Belgian (July-December 2001) and Spanish Presidencies (Jan-June 2002) with the objective of concluding negotiations by mid-2002. The Strategy also proposed that requests from the candidates for transitional periods should be divided into three categories: acceptable, negotiable and non-negotiable. And it introduced a new concept of "setting aside" a limited number of issues for consideration at a later stage, where doing so would allow a chapter's provisional closure.

  7.  The General Affairs Council on 4 December welcomed these recommendations. The Nice European Council then:

    —  reiterated the historic significance of the enlargement process and the priority which it attaches to its success;

    —  completed the Intergovernmental Conference and with it the institutional reforms necessary for enlargement;

    —  agreed the main recommendations of the Commission's Strategy paper, which provides a framework for accelerating progress in negotiations with the best prepared countries;

    —  expressed the clear hope that the new Member States will be able to take part in the next European Parliament elections;

    —  agreed that candidates which have concluded accession negotiations with the Union should be invited to participate in the next IGC;

    —  agreed to assess progress at Gothenburg European Council in June 2001.


  8.  The obligations of membership of the EU were set out in 1993 in the "Copenhagen Criteria" (so-called because they were agreed at the Copenhagen European Council). The relevant passage states:

    "Membership requires that the candidate country has achieved stability of institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights and respect for and protection of minorities, the existence of a functioning market economy as well as the capacity to cope with competitive pressures and market forces within the Union. Membership presupposes the candidate's ability to take on the obligations of membership including adherence to the aims of political, economic and monetary union."

  9.  The Commission's Progress Reports published in November 2000 submitted for Scrutiny on 5 December 2000, copy of the Explanatory Memorandum[1] noted:

    —  An overall improvement in consolidating democracy, respect for the rule of law and the protection of human rights. However, some concerns remained, in particular treatment of minorities, including Roma, trafficking of women and children, corruption, reform of the judiciary and, in Romania, the state of childcare institutions.

    —  Improvements in the economies of the candidates. Malta and Cyprus were judged able to withstand the competitive pressures of the single market (ie meeting the Copenhagen economic criteria in full). Poland, Hungary and Estonia were judged likely to meet them in the short term, provided they maintained their current reform path. The Czech Republic and Slovenia were thought also able to meet the criteria in the same timeframe, provided remaining reforms were completed. However, Latvia, Lithuania and Slovakia needed to make further progress in order to meet the criteria in the medium term. The Commission thought that Bulgaria had made some progress, but that Romania's efforts to meet the economic criteria had been "too limited".

    —  The need to strengthen existing structures and create new ones in order to adopt, implement and enforce the acquis (the body of EU legislation and practice). The reports acknowledge progress in the candidate countries in adopting the acquis, but question their capacity to implement and enforce it.

  10.  The Commission will issue the next round of reports in autumn 2001. Meanwhile, there will be opportunities to review progress. These include regular dialogue in the framework of the Europe Agreements, the Association Councils and the National Plans for the Adoption of the Acquis. The monitoring tables which chart candidates' progress will also be regularly updated.


  11.  The Helsinki European Council also formally recognised Turkey as a candidate for EU membership. The European Council concluded, however, that Turkey needed to make progress in meeting the Copenhagen political criteria (relating to democracy, the rule of law, respect for human rights and minorities) before it would be ready to open negotiations with the EU.


  12.  The UK has supported the enlargement process in several ways. First, it has attempted to provide strategic direction for the negotiations. In speeches by the Foreign Secretary (in Budapest in July 2000) and the Prime Minister (in Warsaw in October 2000) the Government has called for a new, problem solving, approach to negotiations, for a negotiating timetable, for an acceleration under the Swedish Presidency, and for accession in time for the first new Member States to participate in the European Parliamentary elections in 2004. This last point was reflected in the Nice European Council conclusions. There have been other Ministerial speeches promoting enlargement (see Annex 2 for details).

  13.  Second, the Government is working closely with other Member States to promote enlargement. There is an extensive programme of bilateral contacts. There have been joint articles for the press (including the Prime Minister and his Swedish counterpart in the FT on 20 September 2000) and joint working papers, eg a UK-Dutch paper on "the Way Ahead for Enlargement". In 2001, there will be joint seminars with Austria and the Netherlands. And there may be joint visits by Europe Ministers to candidate countries.

  14.  Third, the UK is involved in over 70 Twinning projects (secondments of civil servants to Departments and Ministries in candidate countries to assist with public administration reform and preparation for enlargement). This is the third highest number of any Member State after France and Germany. The UK is working in partnership with other Member States on over 40 of these projects. In addition, the UK has launched seven bilateral "Action Plans" to bring together the UK's pre-accession assistance to candidate countries (copies attached at Annex 3) and expects to launch similar programmes in all candidate countries by the end of FY 2001-02.


  15.  In accordance with the Commission's roadmap, the Swedish Presidency wants, as a minimum, to conclude negotiations with the Luxembourg Six on nine chapters: on Free Movement of Goods, Services, Persons and Capital; Company Law; Culture and Audio Visual; Social Policy and Employment; Environment and External Relations. They also plan to open all remaining chapters with as many as possible of the Helsinki Six. Their work programme is at Annex 4.[2] And as agreed at Nice, the Gothenburg European Council will "assess overall progress, in order to give the necessary guidance for the successful completion of the process."

1   Not Printed. Back

2   Not Printed. Back

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2001
Prepared 10 April 2001