John Bernhard, ambassador Denmark (report & photos)

The Hague
John Bernhard
"The priorities of the EU presidency"
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John Bernhard, october 21 2002

“As some of you probably discovered, one of the great priorities of the Danish presidency of the European Union this semester is the enlargement. Maybe I should mention that this is not the only priority. We do have a few others among the many items which are dealt with in the EU, like freedom, security and justice. We try to make some impulses to the common action in fields of cooperation within the criminal area. Some crimes, which are either new or are crossing the borders easily, like drugs or child pornography on internet or human trafficking, problems like that, which are best dealt with of course by the countries in common. We have another heading, which is called the sustainable development and that is a heading which signifies that we would like the EU to develop a strong, knowledge based economy. Food safety, which is of course a very topical issue in most of our countries, more cooperation on that, but also something which I know that The Netherlands likes to hear, also a reform of the agricultural policy. Denmark is in favour of a reform which concentrates more on quality than on quantity and on the safety of food, on the conditions of how you produce the food.
And finally the global responsibility which means briefly, strengthening of the foreign policy so to speak of the EU.

But than the priority number one, the subject which you hear most about this semester, the enlargement of the EU. We like to call it from Copenhagen to Copenhagen, because in 1993 the criteria for becoming a member of the EU were adopted in a summit in Copenhagen. And now we have a summit in Copenhagen coming up again in December this year. So, what we would like to see was this cyclus being closed in Copenhagen with the new countries which we were already thinking of in 1993. With those countries fulfilling the criteria, or at least as many of them as possible, and entering the EU from 2004. The decision, we hope, will be taken in Copenhagen in December, then there is a signature process which will probably take place in spring, 2003, then of course all countries have to ratify, in some of the candidate-countries there is a referendum and then we hope still to be ready at the beginning of 2004 to have probably ten new countries as members.

Last week long expected report by the EU commission was adopted and presented. It was very crucial because that was the final progress report, which had to state whether in the commission’s view all these countries were ready for membership of the EU. Maybe not at this very moment, but at least from the beginning of 2004. The report stated that in general these countries, ten countries out of the thirteen candidate-countries, would be ready from the beginning of 2004.
Maybe I should just mention which countries we are talking about. Most of them of course are central- and East European countries, former communist countries in most cases. Beginning from the north we have three Baltic states: Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, The Czech Republic, The Slovak Republic, Hungary, Slovenia, Malta and Cyprus. Those are the ten countries which according to the commission should be ready both from a political point of view, they are seen to have stable democracies, to have the proper respect for human rights and minorities. They are also seen to be able to fulfil the so called economic criteria, which means that they have to have a well-functioning market economy. You have to think of the fact that most of these countries had to pass from a state-planning communist economy, which was quite a big change in a little more than ten years for a western market economy.
Finally, they should be considered able to fulfil what is normally called in the Brussels-jargon: the acquis, which means they should be able to legislate and implement all the present EU-rules and that is quite a job. For the time being it is around 80.000 pages of legal text they have to introduce into their own legal systems. To convince the present member states that they can implement that. But according to the commission that was seen to be the case for these ten countries. As it has been mentioned in the media in some existing member countries, like the Netherlands, some of the countries got some remarks about problems which still existed. They were mentioning corruption problems in some of the countries, which gave rise to concern. Some of the countries didn’t yet have a market economy which seemed strong enough to the competition within the EU. Of course the problem is, once you are in the EU, generally your economic life, your production life has to compete with all the other countries on an equal footing. There are some transitional arrangements, but anyway, you need a strong economy and a strong structure to be able to survive in a good state especially the first years.

And the Commission states in its report that in some of these countries the conditions are not fulfilled at this moment. But it is the judgement of the Commission that from 2004 and with the continuation of these countries’ effort all will fulfil these conditions. So the Commission recommends that this week in Brussels, the first of the two summits of the Danish Presidency, it should be decided that the EU will finish negotiations with these ten countries. That means that in Copenhagen on the 12th of December will be the final summit of the Danish Presidency and there we hope that the decision that comes out from Brussels at the end of this week will be negotiated to a happy ending for the candidate states. Then, what is left to negotiate about? Negotiations have of course been going on for several years already. But still there are a few stones on the road.
The Irish stone fortunately disappeared this weekend. What is left now is the so called financial package. The financial offer which the EU is going to present for the final negotiations with the candidate states. And this package consists of various things, some very technical. The main things which are the outstanding issues are the agricultural policy and the so called budget compensation. To take the last first, budget compensation, means that the new countries should not start paying more to the EU budget than what they get from the EU. Some of the mechanism in the EU would in the case of some countries mean that they might become net-contributors from the very beginning. That of course is seen from a new membership’s point of view as a bad start of a memberships…to join the club of the Netherlands and other countries as net-payers. So there is a general agreement that this problem should be solved. Of course there is some ‘in-fight’ going on whether the compensation should be a little higher or a little lower, if it should be compared to the situation of these countries in 2003 or whether it is just a question of not becoming a net-payer.
That’s one of the issues of the financial package. The other one is the one you hear most about in this country, and lately in several other countries, and that is the Agricultural Policy. It is known that the costs of the Agricultural Policy cover almost half of the total budget of the EU. The Agricultural Policy and the costs is of course crucial to also the present member states and especially to those member states who are net-contributors to the EU budget.
It is the view of some countries that if the new countries should have income support for their farmers at the beginning of their membership, at the same time it should be decided that this system of paying income support to farmers in the EU should be facing out, slowly, quickly, gradually…there are many models to do it, but the idea is that the new countries should not be let into that system. Because it would mean that many years after becoming members the agricultural costs would remain at a very high level. That is probably the biggest of the remaining stones on the road to Copenhagen from Brussels. We’ll see what happens in Brussels at the end of this week.
The Commission has mentioned in its reports, taking into consideration the fact that some of the countries do not fulfil at this moment the conditions, mechanisms of monitoring and safeguard measures. Which would mean that for a period before becoming member states and a period after entry, the EU would keep an eye on development in certain sectors to see if certain problems occur. But if all problems are solved then from the decision in Copenhagen we should have ten new member states for 2004.

This is seen by the Dutch government as a very important measure. I also know that the Dutch government and probably the Dutch parliament, after the debate of this week, would like a strengthening of these mechanisms of control and safeguards. I would just mention the three other candidate states which are not members from the beginning, Bulgaria, Romania and Turkey. As for Bulgaria and Romania, they do not fulfil the economic criteria. But they are on their way. They have good marks in their progress reports. The Commission proposes that Bulgaria and Romania should join the EU probably by 2007. And then Turkey, which is also a candidate country, has made many legislative changes, also a change in its constitution this year which has meant a considerable progress in the so called political criteria. But the Commission in its reports still thinks that Turkey has not fully complied with the political criteria as of now. This means that the negotiations with Turkey from the Commission’s proposal could not start yet. But certainly there will be some kind of taking stock of the progress of Turkey, some next step in the relationship with the EU.

And then finally why is the enlargement important and why is it our big priority? For two reasons.
One of the reasons is the usual one, that economically it has always proven to be very important for the welfare of the new and the old countries. The first few years probably it is mostly going to benefit the new members, because they have a longer way to go to reach the economic level of the average of the EU countries. As of now most of the candidate states have a GNP per capital which is still much below the average of the present EU states. Cyprus in fact has the highest average among the candidate states, 80% of the average of the EU. But all the other enlargements, for example with Greece, Spain and Portugal, gave us the experience that it improved very rapidly the economic situation, the economic structure of these countries, giving them a higher living standard, giving them the social welfare which existed further to the north in Europe. All evaluations about the new enlargement predict the same. The mere fact that you have a new, big market in the first place it will be about 75 million more of EU citizens which means that all together the EU market will be getting at least at 450 million by this enlargement, which also means that it is somewhat bigger than the other big market area of the industrialized world, NAFTA, which covers the US, Canada and Mexico. It will also be more interesting of course for companies in our countries, the present member states, to do business in those countries. As their wealth is increasing they will be more interesting as customers, it will be safer to invest there and it will be more attractive economically. That’s the economic part of it.
The more political part of course has to do with the fact that the large majority of those countries are former communist countries which are now as some have put it re-uniting with Europe. They have gained their full independence. They have become democracies in the western style. Some of them have also joined NATO, some others will probably join NATO very soon. It means the step into the EU is the very significant step back in the family of European states.
Thank you very much.”