European Scrutiny Committee Contents

8 Enlargement Strategy and Main Challenges 2012-13




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Commission Communication: Enlargement Strategy and Main Challenges 2012-2013

Commission Staff Working Document: Iceland 2012 Progress Report

Commission Staff Working Document: Montenegro 2012 Progress Report

Commission Staff Working Document: Turkey 2012 Progress Report

Commission Staff Working Document: The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia 2012 Progress Report

Commission Staff Working Document: Serbia 2012 Progress Report

Commission Staff Working Document: Albania 2012 Progress Report

Commission Staff Working Document: Bosnia and Herzegovina 2012 Progress Report

Commission Communication: Feasibility Study for a Stabilisation and Association Agreement between the European Union and Kosovo[47]

Legal base
DepartmentForeign and Commonwealth Office
Basis of considerationMinister's letter of 29 November 2012
Previous Committee ReportsHC 86-xvi (2012-13), chapter 6 (24 October 2012) and HC 86-xvii (2012-13), chapter 1 (24 October 2012); also see
Discussion in Council11 December 2012 General Affairs Council
Committee's assessmentPolitically important
Committee's decision(a) and (g) not cleared; further information requested.

(b) to (f) and (h) and (i) Cleared


8.1 The Council is responsible for decisions on the admission of new Member States; the Commission's annual report has traditionally provided the basis for the Council to take stock and give direction to the accession negotiations and pre-accession reform priorities. The Commission Communication accordingly provides a statement of the EU's evolving enlargement strategy, an assessment of progress, and a look forward to the challenges and priorities for 2012.

8.2 The main document is the Enlargement Strategy and Main Challenges 2012-2013. This is accompanied by a set of comprehensive Progress Reports on Iceland, Montenegro and Turkey (Candidate countries); and Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), Albania and Kosovo (aspirant countries).

8.3 The Progress Reports analyse the progress made by individual countries in meeting the Copenhagen criteria for membership, i.e. political and economic criteria, as well as the capacity to assume the obligations of membership. The political criteria require the stability of institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights and respect for and protection of minorities. The economic criteria require a functioning market economy able to cope with the competitive pressure and market forces within the Union. The ability to assume the obligations of membership is based on progress in transposing and implementing the acquis (the body of EU law). For the purposes of accession negotiations this is split into 35 chapters ranging from the free movement of goods, through the judiciary and fundamental rights, to the environment and financial control. The reports on formal candidate countries Iceland, Montenegro and Turkey detail progress on each of the accession negotiation chapters. For the remaining countries, the reports cover a wide range of issues in line with the political and economic reforms required by their Stabilisation and Association Agreements (SAAs) with the European Union (for all except Kosovo, which does not have an SAA, but which is part of the Stabilisation and Association Dialogue).

8.4 This year, the Commission has also produced two related Communications on:

—  a Feasibility Study for an SAA between the European Union and Kosovo, which covers similar ground, while also assessing Kosovo's readiness to negotiate an SAA; and

—  the Main Findings of the Comprehensive Monitoring Report on Croatia's state of preparedness for EU membership, as part of its pre-accession monitoring.

8.5 The latter is the second such report, the first (interim) monitoring report having been published in April 2012. In view of the then imminent Second Reading of the Bill on Croatia's accession treaty,[48] we dealt with this second Commission Communication in a separate Report.[49]

The main Commission Communication: "Enlargement Strategy and Main Challenges 2012-2013"

8.6 In its introduction, the Commission makes the case for continuing the enlargement process in familiar terms: enlargement policy continues to contribute to peace, security and prosperity on our continent; the prospect of accession drives political and economic reforms; it reinforces the Union's political and economic strengths, demonstrating its continued capacity as a global actor; the most recent enlargement provided mutual benefits of deeper trade integration, a larger internal market, economies of scale and expanded investment and job opportunities.

8.7 The Commission also noted that strengthening the rule of law and democratic governance is central to the enlargement process. The Commission's proposed new approach to judiciary and fundamental rights and justice, freedom and security as part of the negotiating framework for Montenegro would ensure that "the rule of law is firmly anchored at the heart of the accession process, laying the foundation also for future negotiations." The dynamism of the Turkish economy, its geopolitical role, contribution to energy security and young population represented "an opportunity for both Turkey and the EU in a context of an accession perspective." Addressing risks of instability in the Western Balkans was "manifestly in our joint interest"; strengthening stability and democracy in south-east Europe is also an investment in deep and sustainable democracy in the EU's wider neighbourhood. The renewed consensus on enlargement, agreed by the European Council, remained the basis for the EU's enlargement policy. Maintaining the credibility of the enlargement process was crucial to its success, involving:

—  ensuring that reforms in enlargement countries meet the established criteria, in particular the Copenhagen criteria;

—  ensuring the support of Member States and their citizens;

—  fostering understanding and informed debate on the impact of enlargement policy, particularly at a time when the EU faces major challenges;

—  solid track records of reform implementation in the rule of law area;

—  deeply entrenched reforms, with the aim of irreversibility;

—  showing that the EU delivers on its commitments once the conditions are met (the imminent accession of Croatia, the start of accession negotiations with Montenegro in June and candidate status for Serbia in March) encourages all the countries of the region to step up their own preparations for eventual EU membership.

8.8 Positive results had been achieved in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, where the High Level Accession Dialogue had led to a sharper focus on reforms by the authorities; in Albania, where dialogue between government and opposition had allowed the political stalemate to be largely overcome with the adoption of electoral and parliamentary reforms; in Iceland, where accession negotiations were progressing well; and with Turkey, which had "shown active support of the new positive agenda announced last year and launched by the Commission in May 2012."

8.9 At the same time, reforms were still pending in most countries. Human rights, good governance, the rule of law, including the fight against corruption and organised crime, administrative capacity, unemployment, economic reform and social inclusion remained major challenges. There was often a need to take more responsibility for reforms and to muster the necessary political will to move forward. Strengthening freedom of expression and independence of the media remained a major challenge. The accession process remained at times negatively affected by bilateral issues.

8.10 Against this background, the Communication assesses the current state of the EU's enlargement agenda. Based on the accompanying in-depth country analyses,[50] it takes stock of what these countries have achieved preparing for membership, where they stand today, assesses their prospects for the coming years and makes a number of recommendations. As in previous years, a number of key challenges are given particular attention, as is the support provided by the EU to the enlargement countries, including through the Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance.

8.11 In his Explanatory Memorandum of 18 October 2012, the Minister for Europe (Mr David Lidington) welcomed the Commission's reports, which he judged to be a fair and balanced assessment of progress and the main challenges, setting out a credible and useful basis for developing the Government's approach to EU enlargement policy over the coming year. He noted that, while highlighting significant achievement through 2012, the package recognised that in all cases there was still much to do. The Strategy, he said, emphasised that "the rule of law is at the centre of the enlargement process, with an emphasis on strict but fair conditionality, ensuring that enlargement remains a firm, credible policy." The Government was, he said, "committed to concluding accession negotiations only when the UK is confident that a candidate country is able to meet the political, economic and legal obligations of membership", and say that the Commission's assessments which were in line with these principles.

8.12 The Minister then noted the Government aimed to use the enlargement process as a tool to promote reform and reconciliation, and had emphasised to countries the need to study the Commission's assessments, and to make maximum progress before the 11 December General Affairs Council, which adopt Conclusions on the enlargement package. The Government therefore intended to take a final view on the Commission recommendations at a later date, in light of any further developments achieved in each country and any further reporting from the Commission.

8.13 The Minister also helpfully summarised the enlargement strategy's main conclusions and recommendations, and provided comments thereon; and also provided a brief summary for each country and the Government's initial position (which in our Report is set out in italics beneath each relevant section; other emphasis is the Minister's).[51]

Our assessment

8.14 We noted what the Minister had to say about ensuring the continued credibility of the process through increased focus on promoting the rule of law and tackling difficult issues such as corruption early in the negotiating process, and that this "new approach… [of] front-loading of rule of law issues in Montenegro's accession negotiations shows that the EU has learned lessons from previous enlargement processes." We also noted that, in our separate Report on the last stages of Croatia's accession, this suggested that the much-vaunted improvements to this crucial part of the process that were introduced to Croatia's accession process in response to the manifest failings before and after Bulgaria and Romania's accession, had been found wanting — otherwise, we asked why the need to change them again so soon for future accessions? We accordingly considered this chapter of our Report to be relevant to the then imminent Second Reading Debate on the Bill to ratify Croatia's accession treaty.

8.15 With regard to the Government's intention to take a final view at a later date on the Commission recommendations, in light of any further developments achieved in each country and any further reporting from the Commission, we presumed that the Minister was referring specifically to recommendations that:

—  accession negotiations be opened with Macedonia;

—  candidate status be granted to Albania, subject to further progress on judicial and public administration reform and revision of parliamentary rules of procedure, and taking into account commitment on organised crime and corruption;

—  steps be taken "to bring fresh dynamism to Turkey's accession process" including through technical working groups established under the "positive agenda", closer EU/Turkey foreign policy dialogue, and towards visa liberalisation in return for Turkey's signature of the EU Readmission Agreement;

—  negotiations be opened on a Stabilisation and Association Agreement with Kosovo,

as well as to the other areas in which the Commission was pressing Montenegro, Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina to make further progress.

8.16 We therefore asked the Minister to update the Committee on his position on all these issues prior to the December GAC, and, in the meantime retained the documents under scrutiny.[52]

The Minister's letter of 29 November 2012

8.17 The Minister begins with the Committee's concern that the introduction of the "new approach" for Montenegro and all future candidates highlights the failure properly to learn and implement during Croatia's accession negotiations the lessons of previous accessions, hence the need to implement a new and further solution, and continues as follows:

"The enlargement process is continually evolving and the conditions becoming more rigorous. Croatia faced the most rigorous accession negotiations yet. With the introduction of Chapter 23 (Judiciary and Fundamental Rights) Croatia was the first acceding country obliged to adopt significant reforms under ten detailed benchmarks (split into 31 sub-benchmarks, compared to between 3-6 benchmarks for other chapters). Crucially, Croatia was also obliged to establish track records of reform and implementation in many areas. While Croatia is close to meeting all its commitments, we all learnt from the process: Croatia took longer than expected to meet the opening benchmarks and the UK, together with the Netherlands, rightly held up negotiations on this Chapter until full cooperation with ICTY had been demonstrated. To enable future candidates to address the challenges and enact reforms earlier and to develop a consistent track record over a longer period, the Commission responded by proposing the "new approach" to further strengthen the process, both in the interests of the EU and of candidates.

"The "new approach" represents a further refinement to the enlargement process in order to enhance its robustness, credibility and effectiveness in meeting the challenges of each new accession. Chiefly, the "new approach" involves early opening of Chapter 23 and Chapter 24 (Justice, Freedom and Security) along with a reinforced negotiating scheme which gives the Commission and the Member States greater leverage. Tackling Chapters 23 and 24 early, and on the basis of appropriate conditionality, maximises the time available for candidates to address these fundamental issues and to build up a strong track record. The change will benefit future candidates by incorporating the lessons learnt in Croatia's accession, in addition to those already learnt from Bulgaria and Romania's. It is right that the enlargement process continually evolves and important to ensure that lessons are learnt from each accession round.

"In line with the new approach, and following the opening of accession negotiations in June, we look forward to the early opening of the rule of law chapters (23 and 24) with Montenegro. This will be beneficial to Montenegro as it addresses its reform challenges in the fields of organised crime and corruption and the judiciary upfront in the process, particularly as reforms in these areas underpin success in other chapters of the acquis. Following Montenegro's 14 October parliamentary elections, we will work closely with the new government, when formed, to ensure that they focus on rule of law reforms in order to ensure Montenegro's steady progress towards EU membership."

8.18 With regard to Turkey, the Minister says:

"at a time when the EU faces economic challenges and continuing instability in the Middle East, our relationship matters more than ever. We need to strengthen the EU's relationship with Turkey and improve its ability to work together with Turkey on key issues, such as human rights. The Government remains committed to our strategic goal of bringing fresh dynamism to Turkey's accession process, including through technical working groups established under the "positive agenda", closer EU/Turkey foreign policy dialogue, and greater co-operation on Justice and Home Affairs issues. We are looking to deliver this through forward-looking, constructive enlargement conclusions this December which give the EEAS, the Commission and the Irish Presidency the strongest possible mandate to push ahead on all these areas. Turkish Foreign Minister Davutoðlu visited Brussels on 7 November and confirmed his commitment to strengthening the EU/Turkey relationship, including through opening two or three Chapters and greater EU/Turkey coordination on Syria. We are pleased that Turkey has a clear vision for progress, and want to work closely with the Turkish Government in the coming months."

8.19 On Serbia, the Minister says:

"As the Foreign Secretary made clear during his visit to Belgrade on 25 October, the UK remains a strong supporter of Serbia's EU future, when the conditions have been met.  Before it can open accession negotiations Serbia needs to make a qualitative change in its relationship with Kosovo.  As the Foreign Secretary also set out, the condition set at the General Affairs Council last December of a 'visible and sustainable improvement in relations with Kosovo' means Serbia needs to: implement agreements already reached in the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue; return to the dialogue in an ambitious manner; and tackle parallel structures in northern Kosovo. We welcome recent progress in the Dialogue and urge further concrete action. While a decision on opening accession negotiations on December is unlikely, we hope to be in a position at the December General Affairs Council to welcome some concrete steps by Serbia towards meeting the conditions.

"Domestic reforms must not be forgotten. Serbia must keep up its reform efforts, particularly in the areas of judicial reform, strengthening independent institutions and taking steps towards an open market economy. Serbia must also continue to improve its relations with its neighbours, particularly with Sarajevo."

8.20 On Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Minister says:

"during his visit to Sarajevo on 24 October the Foreign Secretary reiterated to Bosnian political leaders the need to act on reforms needed for EU and NATO accession. Ensuring progress to enable the Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) to enter into force, including amending the constitution in line with the ECtHR decision on the Sejdic-Finci case, remains a priority. The pledge of the six major Bosnian political parties on 20 November to work together to resolve the Sejdic-Finci issue is encouraging. Implementation is now key.

"As a lead advocate for Bosnia's membership of the EU, the UK is working with partners to re-invigorate the international approach so as to encourage Bosnia's leaders to address the issues of concern identified in the Explanatory Memorandum. The Foreign Secretary discussed these matters with US Secretary of State Clinton and the High Representative for Foreign Affairs Baroness Ashton ahead of their visits to Bosnia last month and they conveyed similar messages to Bosnian interlocutors. In Brussels, we have discussed with Commissioner Füle the need for the EU to continue and indeed increase its engagement, and engaged with other Member States through the Political and Security Committee (PSC) in order to garner further EU support for our approach."

8.21 With regard to Kosovo, the Minister says:

"the UK fully supports the conclusions of the Feasibility Study which are entirely in line with the Government's strong support for a stable and prosperous Kosovo. Given that Kosovo needs to meet the short-term conditionality, it is unlikely the Council will be in a position to consider opening negotiations on an SAA with Kosovo in December. However, the Kosovan Minister of European Integration, Vlora Citaku has made clear Kosovo's aim to complete the short-term conditionality by the end of the year. If that were to happen, I would expect negotiations on an SAA with Kosovo to be opened in the first quarter of 2013."

8.22 On Albania, he says:

"as the Progress Report noted, the Commission will report back once key measures on Public Administration and Judicial reform, and on the revision of Parliamentary rules of procedure have been completed, also taking into account further progress on tackling organised crime and corruption. The Government will make a decision upon receipt of the report, which now is unlikely to arrive in time for Member States to analyse, clear internally, and make a decision at the December GAC."

8.23 Finally, with regard to Macedonia, the Minister says:

"The Government fully agrees with the Commission's recommendation that accession negotiations be opened with Macedonia, and we will be strongly supporting this at the December GAC. The Government also shares the Commission's view that bilateral disputes should not impede the accession process. We therefore continue to support all parties in finding a mutually acceptable solution to the name issue so that Macedonia can continue on its EU path.  In its Enlargement Strategy the Commission proposed drawing up a draft negotiating framework taking into account solving the name issue at an early stage.  We look forward to seeing the details of the Commission's proposal."


8.24 The Minister made the same point on Croatia having faced the most rigorous accession negotiations yet in connection with our most recent Report: as we noted there, given the EU and Member States' experience of Bulgaria and Romania's accession process, it would have been a dereliction of duty by the Member States had it not been. Notwithstanding the Minister's mollifying words that "the enlargement process is continually evolving", we continue to believe that the fact that the re-vamped process is to be changed once again — to ensure that candidates address the challenges and enact the reforms earlier, and develop a consistent track record over a longer period — illustrates the extent to which this point has yet to be reached in the case of Croatia; and thus why we continue to find it all the more disturbing that the Government chose to foreclose on the possibility of further evidence-based consideration by bringing the ratification process to a head now.[53]

8.25 We are grateful to the Minister for his further information on the other countries in question. On the one hand, we have no wish to hold up clearance of these documents further: on the other, we would not wish the Government to agree to Albania being granted candidate status without the House first being provided with details of the Commission report to which the Minister refers and details of why he believes that this justifies the Council acceding to this Commission recommendation.

8.26 We therefore ask the Minister to write to us again on these lines, once the Commission report is forthcoming, and in the meantime retain document 14862/12, Commission Staff Working Document: Albania 2012 Progress Report, and the Main Commission Communication under scrutiny. In so doing, we note that retaining these non-legislative documents under scrutiny would not prevent the Government from participating in the negotiation of and endorsing Council Conclusions, which we presume would not endorse any change to Albania's status.

8.27 We now clear the other Commission Staff Working Documents, and the Communication relating to Kosovo.

8.28 In view of its "rolling" inquiry into EU enlargement, we are also drawing this chapter to the attention of the Foreign Affairs Committee.

47   Under UNSCR 1244/99. Back

48   Bill to make provision consequential on the treaty concerning the accession of the Republic of Croatia to the European Union, signed at Brussels on 9 December 2011, and provision consequential on the Protocol on the concerns of the Irish people on the Treaty of Lisbon, adopted at Brussels on 16 May 2012; and to make provision about the entitlement of nationals of the Republic of Croatia to enter or reside in the United Kingdom as workers. See Back

49   See (34320) 14854/12: HC 86-xvii (2012-13), chapter 1 and HC 86-xxi (2012-13), chapter 12 (28 November 2012). Back

50   Summaries and conclusions of the country reports are included as an annex to the present Communication. Back

51   See HC 86-xvi (2012-13), chapter 6 (24 October 2012) for the Minister's summary and comments. Back

52   See headnote: HC 86-xvi (2012-13), chapter 6 (24 October 2012). Back

53   See (34320) 14854/12: HC 86-xxi (2012-13), chapter 12 (28 November 2012). Back

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Prepared 13 December 2012