Bulgaria and Romania all set to join the EU - and then?
The Foreign Affairs Committee voted on three reports concerning EU enlargement regarding Bulgaria, Romania, Turkey, Croatia and the Western Balkan countries.
MEPs adopted the final reports on Bulgaria and Romania as candidate countries, as well as a report on other candidate countries and possible future candidates, notably Turkey, Croatia and the Western Balkan countries. Future enlargements of the European Union should take more account of the performance of candidate countries than they did in the past and will, in any event, require changes in the EU Treaty, the Foreign Affairs Committee said.
A date for final accession should not be given too soon and accession negotiations should follow a timetable based on "effective compliance" with the political criteria. Compliance with these criteria should be given greater priority in accession negotiations.
In adopting a resolution drawn up by Foreign Affairs Committee chair Elmar Brok by 44 votes in favor to 5 against with 4 abstentions, MEPs urged the EU governments to "conclude the constitutional process by the end of 2008", pointing out that "the Treaty of Nice does not provide an adequate basis for future enlargements". They want the necessary treaty reforms to be ready before the next European elections "so as to avoid a delay in current accession negotiations", notably in those with Croatia.
The accession of Romania on 1 January was equally welcomed in a report drawn up by Pierre Moscovici which was adopted by 51 votes in favor to 0 against with 1 abstention. The Romanian authorities were congratulated on the extensive progress made in a short time, but they were also reminded to keep up the pace of reform after accession. MEPs felt that the other EU Member States should open up their borders to Romanian workers.
The Foreign Affairs Committee recognized the progress made on minorities, but said that the law on minorities should be approved as soon as possible and that efforts in the protection of minorities, children and the mentally handicapped should be stepped up. With regard to the Roma minority, the Romania was urged to "consolidate the reforms it has undertaken" and to ensure adequate funding. On the Hungarian minority, MEPs said that adequate funding should be provided for the improvement of education standards.
The Foreign Affairs Committee noted that the Commission had also evoked the need for further progress in the fight against corruption, the absorption of agricultural funds and the application of EU legislation on food safety. Also, Romania should speed up the processing of claims relating to the restitution of properties confiscated by the communist regime and should make further efforts in protecting the environment, with special reference to the mining in Rosia Montana (Verespatak). Finally, MEPs insisted that after accession Parliament be further involved in the monitoring process regarding both Bulgaria and Romania.
With regard to Turkey, the Foreign Affairs Committee noted the European Commission report which says that the pace of reform has slowed and stressed that Turkey ratify and fully implement the so-called Ankara Protocol, which extends the EC-Turkey association agreement to all new Member States, including Cyprus. The EU governments stated in September 2005 that implementation of the protocol would be evaluated in 2006 and that failure to implement it would "affect the overall progress in the negotiations". MEPs hoped that the Finnish Presidency would find a solution to "the current stalemate" and called on Turkey "to work together in a constructive way to ensure full implementation (...) by the end of the year".
Croatia's progress "on its way into the European Union" was welcomed by the MEPs, who noted that it was well-prepared, had less than 4.5 million inhabitants and would thus not "overstrain the integration capacity" of the EU.
The "clear European membership prospects" offered to the Western Balkan countries, needs to be maintained, the Foreign Affairs Committee said, in order to consolidate peace and prosperity in the region, but MEPs reminded these countries that it is the pace of reform that will determine the pace of their integration in the EU.
The accession of Bulgaria on 1 January was welcomed by the Foreign Affairs Committee, which, however, also noted that there are areas "that require further progress". In a resolution drawn up by Geoffrey van Orden and adopted by 44 votes in favor to 0 against with 2 abstentions, MEPs mentioned the need for maximum transparency in every sector, a stronger role for the Ombudsman, rigorous implementation of measures to improve the training of police investigators, the coordination of anti-corruption policies and a strengthening of inspectorates within public administrations.
Also, police units specializing in the fight against organized crime, corruption, drugs and human trafficking should be expanded. Points of some concern were the conditions in children's homes and other institutional care and the protection of minorities. MEPs welcomed the progress made on the trade in live animals and animal welfare, such as in the transportation and slaughter of animals and the treatment of animal by-products.
On matters of a more economic nature, the Foreign Affairs Committee expressed concern at "continuing invisible barriers to foreign investors", urging the Bulgarian government to take measures in order to ensure a "positive investment climate". With regard to energy, MEPs recognized the sacrifice that Bulgaria will have to make in closing units 3 and 4 of the Kozloduy nuclear plant and asked the Council to consider a delay of eight months to allow for a review.
The integration capacity of the EU was a subject of more general concern to MEPs and the Constitutional Affairs Committee is drawing up a report on this. The Foreign Affairs Committee MEPs regretted that the Commission had failed to provide a "sufficiently in-depth analysis" of the issues to be resolved before any further enlargements and termed the relevant part in the Commission enlargement report "an unsatisfactory answer to Parliament's request". (EP Press)
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