21st REPORT, SESSION 1998-99: ENLARGEMENT
OF THE EU: PROGRESS AND PROBLEMS
Letter from Robin Cook MP, Foreign Secretary
to Lord Tordoff, Chairman of the Committee
Thank you for forwarding a copy of the Committee's
report on "Enlargement of the EU: Progress and Problems"
(HL paper 118, published on 24 November).
I have read the report with interest, and am
pleased to attach my detailed response.
2 December 1999
"ENLARGEMENT OF THE EU: PROGRESS AND
The Government welcomes the Committee's interest
in this subject. The next round of enlargement is vitally important
to the future of Europe, and the UK is playing a leading and constructive
role in the process. The Committee has provided a thoughtful and
perceptive analysis of the issues involved in the negotiation
and accession process.
IN 2000 (PARAGRAPHS
The Government appreciates the Committee's support
for extending invitations at the Helsinki European Council to
a further six applicants for membership (Bulgaria, Latvia, Lithuania,
Malta, Romania and Slovakia). The UK has been the strongest proponent
of this approach amongst Member States. The Prime Minister's speeches
in Romania and Bulgaria in May were a recognition of, as the Committee's
Report says, "the political need to send a positive message
to Bulgaria and Romania by including them in the list" (76).
The Committee is quite right to observe that ". . . events
in Kosovo have prompted a particular sense of obligation to those
two countries . . . as well as heightening the perception of the
geo-political importance of EU enlargement as a potential contributor
to regional stability" (74).
The Government agrees that once negotiations
have been expanded, they should be conditional, objective and
differentiated. The Commission's recommendations in its Composite
Paper of 13 October 1999 on this point are welcome. Opening chapters
at a pace appropriate to the candidates' own state of readiness
is a good way to ensure that the negotiations are genuinely substantive.
The Commission also recommended that chapters
which have already been provisionally closed should be re-opened,
to monitor implementation. The Government supports monitoring,
and believes that it is in the best interests of both the EU and
applicants. Proper implementation of the acquis is necessary for
the new Member States to play a full part in the European Union,
in particular the Single Market.
The Committee's Report raises the question of
whether the Commission will be well enough staffed to cope with
so many different sets of negotiations. The Commission announced
in October that it would recruit up to 270 new staff to cope with
the negotiations. It has already begun to establish negotiating
teams in anticipation of expanded negotiations. Each of these
teams will be headed by a senior Commission official (at A-3 level)
to ensure that the process is driven forward at an appropriate
A TIMETABLE FOR
The Committee's Report sets out the strong arguments
for and against setting target dates. The Government agrees that
setting target dates would be counter-productive at this stage.
But previous enlargements have shown that dates can act as a useful
spur at a later stage of negotiations. The Government strongly
agrees with the Committee that targets should not be missed simply
because of a lack of readiness on the part of the EU itself, and
supports the Commission's recommendation that the EU be institutionally
ready for enlargement from 2002.
EU POLICY REFORM
The Committee suggests that the CAP Reform agreement
reached at Berlin could have gone further. The Government agrees.
But, whilst further reform of the CAP is clearly desirable, it
should not be seen as necessary for enlargement to take place.
Berlin did provide sufficient funds to finance the CAP in the
new Member States, but only on the basis that direct payments
are not paid to farmers in these countries. The Commission took
the view that it would be better to provide aid to help develop
the infrastructure in the candidate countries than to pay direct
aids to their farmers. The Government will continue to press hard
for more radical CAP reform and agrees with the Committee that
the forthcoming WTO negotiations will add to the pressure for
The Government agrees with the Committee that
adequate provision for the cost of enlargement is extremely important.
But it believes that the current arrangements are adequate, and
does not see the need for re-negotiation. Substantial funds have
been made available to provide assistance to the candidate countries
both before and after accession. The agreement reached at Berlin
will permit a first wave of applicants to join between 2002 and
2006 without an increase in the present ceiling on Own Resources
(1.27 per cent of Community GNP).
As the Minister for Europe said in his evidence,
the UK wants a short and focused IGC. The main aim of the IGC
should be to prepare the EU to receive new members from 2002,
as the Commission's Composite Paper proposed. We will work together
with other Member States to ensure that sufficient institutional
reform takes place to make early enlargement a reality.
The Committee's Report suggests that it would
be best to recognise now that the target dates suggested by both
the applicants and the Commission are "over-optimistic".
It is true that the applicants' internal targets for readiness
are ambitious. But they are internal targets, based on
the applicants' own perceptions and needs. As such, they are a
useful spur to activity in applicants' administrations. The Commission's
proposed target date for EU readiness is also useful in focusing
Member States on the need to complete the forthcoming IGC in good
There has been no hardening in the Government's
attitude towards transition periods. As before, the Government
wants progress towards enlargement to be as rapid as is compatible
with the maintenance of EU standards, particularly as they affect
the integrity of the Single Market. Member States have to stand
by the agreed common positions in order for the negotiations to
be successful. The UK attitude towards the issue of transition
periods is consistent with the EU negotiating position, which
". . . acceptance of these rights and obligations
may give rise to technical adjustments, and exceptionally to non-permanent
transitional measures, to be defined during the accession negotiations.
Such requests for any transitional measures shall be limited in
time and scope, and accompanied by a plan with clearly defined
stages for application of the acquis. They must not involve amendments
to the rules or policies of the Union, disrupt their proper functioning,
or lead to significant distortions of competition".
The Committee's Report raises a number of issues
in relation to the EU stance on transition periods for difficult
and costly areas of the acquis. In this context, the Committee
rightly observes that transition periods have played a part in
every previous accession, including our own.
The significant infrastructural investment required
for certain Directives poses particular problems. The environment
acquis is complex, and negotiations have not yet been opened
in this chapter. When they are, it is likely that the EU will
first seek further clarification on specific requests for transition
periods. If these can be justified, the EU will consider how best
to integrate the applicants into the acquis. But in many areas
of the acquis it is important to pursue implementation before
accession. These include the horizontal directives, such as the
Directives on Environmental Impact Assessment and Access to Environmental
Information, and those affecting the operation of the Single Market,
trans-boundary pollution, and the protection of the natural environment.
Many of the Directives in this area contribute to capacity-building
and bring economic as well as environmental benefits, and their
early implementation is very much in the interest of the applicant
The Government agrees that agricultural arrangements
are a particularly difficult area for negotiations. Negotiations
on agriculture are unlikely to begin until late in the Portuguese
Presidency at the earliest. We will need to see how the discussions
develop. There may well be pressure for transitional periods for
some elements of the CAP.
A successful expansion of the Single Market
is one of the key objectives for Enlargement, and the Government
agrees that State Aids and Purchase of Land are two important
areas where we will want to minimise any disruption. Specifically
on State Aids, the Government does not currently anticipate any
significant transition periods for this part of the acquis. On
purchase of land, while the Government appreciates the sensitivities
which have led to requests for substantial transition periods,
we will want nevertheless to look very closely at the potential
for disruption of the Single Market as we develop our position
for the negotiations ahead.
The Committee's report underlines the need for
existing Member States to maintain the momentum of reform so that
the process is not undermined. As already stated, the Government
welcomes the Commission's proposed target date for EU readiness,
which will help to focus Member States on the need to complete
the forthcoming IGC in good time. The adoption of this target
will also demonstrate to applicant countries that the EU really
is working towards a swift and successful enlargement.
The Committee rightly notes that public support
for enlargement, in both the Member States and applicants, will
be essential to its success. It is primarily up to applicant state
governments to ensure that their citizens understand the benefits
of EU membership. UK Ministers visiting applicant states invariably
refer to enlargement, the benefits associated with it, and UK
support for it. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office produces information
on enlargement, and on UK support for it, which is available to
applicant country citizens through UK embassies and over the Internet.
The Committee suggests that the Government seek
observer status for the applicants at the IGC. The Government
is already investigating with the Presidency how the applicant
countries can be consulted during the IGC process. As well as
consultations at the EU level, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office
will offer them regular briefings (supplementing their monthly
briefings after each General Affairs Council). These briefings
already offer them a chance to raise questions of particular concern
in relation to the GACthey will in future have the opportunity
to do this in relation to the IGC.
The Committee's Report highlights difficulties
for the countries of the Western Balkans if economic and political
relations between them and the applicant states have to be severed.
The Prime Minister called for expanded negotiations in May to
help stabilise the region. The EU has not asked applicant states
to sever their political relations with Balkan countries. It is
currently negotiating Stability and Association Agreements (SAAs)
with Balkan countries, which will give them preferential trade
access to the EU. The applicant states and the rest of the EU
will all have the same relationships with countries signing SAAs.
These Balkan countries already enjoy favourable access to EU markets
and the applicant countries are free to align their own trade
arrangements with these existing EU arrangements.
In negotiations, the EU has emphasised the importance
of maintaining the acquis. Transition periods in the External
Relations chapter could affect the proper functioning of the Common
Agricultural Policy, the uniform implementation of the Common
Customs Tariff, disrupt the Free Movement of goods within the
Internal Market and lead to distortions of competition. The UK
successfully pressed for the EU's common position in this area
to recognise that the SAAs introduced a dynamic element into this
part of the acquis. The Government will continue to monitor developments
in this area closely to ensure that enlargement does not impact
adversely on the Western Balkan countries.
As to opinion in the Member States, the available
statistics are imprecise. The Eurobarometer survey on which the
Committee's report draws asks only whether enlargement is seen
as a priority for the EU, not whether respondents favour it. But
there is a lack of public engagement with the issue, which the
Government intends to address. Plans have been drawn up for an
enhanced information and media strategy on enlargement, which
is being carried out as the negotiations become more advanced
and the prospect of accession draws nearer.
The Committee has given a perceptive analysis
of the areas of difficulty in the enlargement process. The Government
agrees with the Committee's views on the political imperative
of enlargement and on the need for the EU to ready itself to receive
But, as the Committee recognises, it is important
that those new members are able to play a full part in the expanded
European Union as soon as possible. For that reason, the question
of transition periods will require careful scrutiny. The Government
does not favour the development of a two-tier EU, and believes
that this would not be in the interests of the applicants. But
as previous enlargements (including the UK's own accession) have
shown, the acceptance of limited transition periods does not imply
a two-tier Europe.
Foreign and Commonwealth Office