Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office

  You will recall that I sent you in July the second in a series of six-monthly reports on progress in the EU enlargement negotiations. I am glad that the Committee continues to find these useful. I now attach the third report, reflecting progress in the second half of 2001, under the Belgium Presidency.

  Despite a number of difficult issues allocated for negotiations under the Belgian Presidency, I am pleased to report that the EU kept to the "road map", or timetable, for negotiations agreed at Nice. The Commission confirmed in its November Strategy Paper that the EU remains on track to complete negotiations with those candidates that are ready by the end of 2002 so that they may join the EU before the European Parliament elections in 2004. At Laeken, the EU confirmed its determination to keep this timetable.

  2002 should therefore be the last year of negotiations with the first wave of candidates. But these negotiations will not be easy. We still have to agree EU positions on the most difficult issues of all—the budget-related chapters of Agriculture, Regional Policy and Financial and Budgetary Provisions. The UK will continue to work closely with the Commission, Presidency and EU partners to help keep negotiations on track for a successful conclusion at Copenhagen in December.

  I am writing in similar terms to Jimmy Hood MP, Chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee and Lord Brabazon of Tara, Chairman of the Lords European Union Committee. I am copying this letter to the Clerk of your Committee.

Rt Hon Peter Hain MP

Minister for Europe

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

January 2002


  1.  This is the third in a series of six-monthly progress reports on enlargement. It covers:

    —  Progress in the negotiations under the Belgian Presidency

    —  A forward look at the issues facing the Spanish Presidency

    —  An update on the UK's activities in support of the enlargement process.


  2.  The "road map" for negotiations endorsed by the Nice European Council allocated nine chapters to the Belgian Presidency; Competition Policy; Transport Policy; Energy; Taxation; Customs Union; Agriculture (phytosanitary and veterinary questions); Fisheries; Justice and home affairs; and Financial Control. The road map requires that the EU agree a common position on all highlighted chapters, with a view, where possible, to closing them provisionally with the candidates.

  3.  A number of chapters allocated to the Belgian Presidency posed particular challenges in the negotiations, notably Taxation (cigarette excise duty); Transport (domestic road haulage); Competition Policy (state aids); Energy (nuclear safety); JHA (a set of acquis which has developed fast since the last enlargement). However, the EU was able to agree a position on all these issues during the Belgian Presidency and to negotiate that position with at least 2 candidates.

Taxation (cigarette excise duty)

    —  The EU position allows candidates until 31 December 2006 to reach the current EU minimum rate of excise duty on tobacco. As for impending acquis, which will introduce a new cash minimum on excise duty, the EU position allows that candidates should have up to the maximum period allowed to any current Member State to meet the new standard, ie until the end of 2007. During the transition period, current Member States will be able to restrict the quantity of tobacco products imported from these new Member States, in order to prevent smuggling.

    —  Both the Czech Republic and Slovenia have accepted this position and provisionally closed the Taxation chapter. Hungary did not request any transition and has also closed the chapter.

Transport (cabotage)

    —  Cabotage is a domestic road haulage journey performed by a foreign registered vehicle, eg a Czech haulier doing a journey between Bremen and Berlin. The EU position imposes a transition period on cabotage by all Central European candidates except Slovenia (where road haulage costs equate with the EU average). The transition periods take the form of 3+2 years (3 obligatory + 2 optional) on candidates who have requested a transition period; or 2+2+1 years (2 obligatory + 2 optional +1 additional in the event of a serious market disurbance) on those who have not. Any restrictions imposed on the candidates will be reciprocal against Member State hauliers.

    —  Hungary, Latvia and Lithuania have accepted this position and closed the chapter, as has Slovenia. Cyprus and Malta have also closed the chapter.

Competition Policy (state aids)

    —  Negotiations are concluded on this chapter only when the Commission verifies that companies and public authorities have become accustomed to operating in an environment such as that of the EU. This requires that the necessary legislative framework is in place; the necessary administration capacity has been established; and the country concerned can show a credible enforcement record of the competition acquis.

    —  Slovenia, Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia have now provisionally closed this chapter.

Energy (nuclear safety)

    —  The EU's Atomic Questions Group (AQG) established the Working Party on Nuclear Safety (WPNS) in the Context of Enlargement to define the EU position on the "high level of nuclear safety" required of the candidate countries. The WPNS includes experts from all Member States. Its June report gave recommendations on steps required of candidate countries to upgrade nuclear power plants so they meet safety standards prevailing in the EU. Candidates must agree to implement these recommendations before the Energy chapter can be closed. Implementation of safety standards will be monitored by peer review. Where candidate countries have non-upgradable nuclear power plants, they must agree satisfactory dates for their closure as a condition of closing this chapter.

    —  All candidates except Estonia, Lithuania, Bulgaria and Romania have now provisionally closed the Energy chapter.


    —  Candidate countries are required to demonstrate the commitment and capacity to implement effectively the JHA acquis by accession. Membership of Schengen, however, will be a two-stage process. By accession, candidates will be required to meet EU minimum standards for border controls and introduce preparations for Schengen membership. These will then be monitored during a second phase until it is judged that the new Member State can take on full Schengen membership and internal border controls can be lifted. Given the need for confidence in the effective implementation of all areas of the JHA acquis, the EU will reinforce the existing monitoring process paying particular attention to each candidate's administrative and judicial capacity to implement and enforce effectively the acquis.

    —  Hungary, Cyprus, the Czech Republic and Slovenia have provisionally closed this chapter.

  4.  At the close of the Belgian Presidency:

    —  The 10 candidates with target accession dates of 2004 or earlier had all opened 29 of the 31 chapters; Bulgaria (target date end 2006) had opened 27 and Romania (target date 2007) 17.

    —  All 10 front-running candidates had closed at least 20 chapters; Slovenia had closed 26; Cyprus, Hungary and the Czech Republic 24; Latvia and Lithuania 23; Slovakia 22; Poland, Estonia and Malta 20; Bulgaria 14 and Romania 9. (A full table on the status of the negotiations is at Annex 1[7]).

  5.  The Commission issued its annual Enlargement Strategy Paper and progress reports on each of the candidates on 13 November. Explanatory Memorandum Reference 14117/01 dated 17 December 2001 summarises these documents and their implications for UK policy. The Strategy Paper confirms that:

    —  provided candidates sustain their efforts, it should be possible to conclude negotiations by 2002 with those who are ready so they can join the EU before the June European Parliament elections in 2004;

    —  the Commission's 2002 Regular Reports, due in the autumn, will include a recommendation on which candidate countries are ready for accession;

    —  it will be possible to finance an enlargement of up to 10 without breaking the financing ceilings agreed at Berlin in 1999. The negotiations should take place on the basis of the existing acquis "and the principles inherent in the Berlin agreement" [ie the Financial Perspective and conclusions agreed at the Berlin European Council in March 1999];

    —  implementation and enforcement of the acquis will be particularly important for the remainder of the accession process and the Commission will enhance its monitoring of implementation through increased use of peer review involving EU Member States;

    —  the Commission plans an "updated road map" for those countries that do not form part of the first wave of accession.

Laeken European Council

  6.  Solid progress under the Belgian Presidency enabled the Laeken European Council to:

    —  confirm that the enlargement process is irreversible and that the financial framework established at the Berlin European Council makes enlargement possible;

    —  state its determination to complete negotiations with those candidates who are ready by the end of 2002 so that they can take part in the 2004 European Parlilament elections as Member States;

    —  agree with the Commission view that, if both the negotiations and the candidates' reforms continue at their present pace, any or all of the 10 candidate countries with a target accession date of 2004 or earlier could be ready to join in 2004;

    —  set the objective of opening negotiations on all chapters of the acquis with Bulgaria and Romania in 2002 and call for a tailored timetable and road map for these countries.

  7.  The Laeken European Council also called on the candidate countries to bring their administrative and judicial capabilities up to the required level and noted that the Commission will report to the Seville European Council in June 2002 on implementation of an Action Plan to strengthen institutions in the candidate countries.


  8.  The Commission's annual strategy and progress reports for 2001 again confirmed that Cyprus already meets the Copenhagen political and economic criteria regarding eligibility for EU accession. The Commission also stated that the EU acquis and accession process should not hinder a political settlement on Cyprus. The EU's objective is accession by a united island, but in line with the conclusions of the Helsinki European Council entry is not conditional upon achieving a settlement. The EU has welcomed the restart of the UN-brokered settlement talks.


  9.  The Laeken conclusions underlined that Turkey's bid for EU membership will be assessed against the same criteria as other candidate countries'. This year, the EU will continue to handle its relations with Turkey in the framework of the Accession Partnership (AP), which was agreed in March 2001 and has had a real effect in encouraging Turkey to implement legislative changes aimed at bringing their laws progressively in line with the acquis. EU-Turkey relations are particularly important in the context of Cyprus. The European Commission's report of November 2001 on Turkey's progress towards EU accession called on Turkey to support the work of achieving a political settlement on Cyprus.

The UK's role in promoting enlargement

  10.  The UK has maintained its role as a champion of enlargement in the negotiations, in contacts with other Member States and candidate countries, and in activities to raise awareness of the benefits of enlargement within the UK and beyond. We worked closely with the Belgian Presidency in support of its efforts to identify solutions and move the negotiations forward. The Foreign Secretary hosted a seminar in November 2001 for UK parliamentarians on EU enlargement. The Minister for Europe addressed Welsh business representatives on enlargement in Cardiff on 26 October and promoted EU enlargement during a visit to Edinburgh on 5 November. And the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is co-operating with a number of the English regions in their efforts to spread awareness of enlargement, including the opportunities it presents for UK business. A new EU enlargement brochure plus quarterly updates on developments in the negotiations have also been published in the last six months and distributed to the press, universities, NGOs, libraries and parliamentarians (copies attached at Annex 2[8]).

  11.  In mid-November 2001, the British Embassy in Madrid, together with the British Council and Spanish Government held a highly successful conference entitled "Bigger Europe, Greater Diversity: the strategic challenges for an enlarged EU". A planned joint UK-Dutch conference in The Hague on strategies for selling enlargement will now take place in March 2002.

  12.  The UK has maintained its place as one of the most active participants in the EU's Twinning Programme (the secondment of civil servants to Departments and Ministries in candidate countries to assist with public administration reform and preparation for enlargement). We had 23 successful bids for twinning projects in the 2001 round. This was the second highest number of projects won by any Member State, behind only Germany, and represents the highest bidding success rate of all the leading players, including Germany. The UK is currently involved in a total of around 80 Twinning Projects across 11 candidate countries. We will be bidding for further projects in the 2002 round, including for `Twinning Light' projects: a new form of short-term technical assistance involving consultancy visits rather than resident advisers.

  13.  The UK's bilateral Action Plans continue to be a successful and popular means of helping applicants prepare for EU accession. On 18 October 2001, we launched the UK/Lithuania Action Plan—the eleventh Plan to be launched. And in September 2001, we launched the second phase of the UK/Hungary Action Plan. This builds on areas covered in the first phase, including tackling organised crime, agriculture, financial supervision and media ethics, as well as the new topics of legal training and e-government.

Next Steps: the Spanish Presidency

  14.  The Spanish Presidency has made clear its commitment to reach an agreed EU position on those chapters allocated to its Presidency under the "road map": Agriculture (budgetary aspects); Regional Policy, Financial and Budgetary Provisions; Institutions and `Other' (which as yet remains empty). The Commission is due to table a paper setting out the framework for negotiating the budget-related chapters in late January, including proposals for applying CAP and the Structural Funds to the candidates, on the basis of the existing acquis and the principles laid down at Berlin in 1999.

  15.  The Spanish Presidency will also have to address those chapters not yet agreed with all the candidates. Most chapters have now been closed with at least 8 of the 10 candidates aiming to end negotiations this year. The exceptions are JHA, Competition Policy, Taxation and Transport where between 4 and 7 of these candidates have yet to complete negotiations.

  16.  The Spanish Presidency plans to invite the candidate countries to part of the Barcelona European Council in March 2002 for discussions on the EU's economic reform agenda. They will also attend part of the Seville European Council in June 2002. The Commission will report to Seville on the candidates' progress in strengthening their administrative and judicial institutions. The Spanish work programme on enlargement is attached at Annex 3[9].

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

January 2002

7   See p Ev 57.Commission's Enlargement Strategy Paper and Annual Reports Back

8   Not printed. Updated information is available on the enlargement pages of the FCO's website: Back

9   Page Ev . . . Back

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