A great deal has already been written about the adjustments the European Union (EU) should make in order to be able to accept new members, and how the applicant Central and East European countries (CEEC) should prepare for the rigours of membership. Even though the CEEC will have to make major efforts to qualify for membership, they have been expressing the expectation that accession to the EU is achievable within the next three to four years. Recently, however, Commission officials have reportedly estimated that the accession of these countries will probably happen later than first envisaged. They now seem to believe that the entry of even the more advanced applicants will not take place before 2002-3.
Naturally the timing of the next enlargement of the Union will be determined to a significant extent by the progress made by the CEEC in the transition to democratic political systems with fully functioning market-based economies. However, the mechanism of enlargement itself is a time-consuming process, and this introduces a natural' delay factor.
Just as the debate on Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) has shifted from whether or not such a union is desirable to the means and practical difficulties of introducing a single currency, so the debate on the next enlargement has started to consider the problems and challenges associated with the practicalities of preparing the CEEC for and admitting them to the EU.
Criteria and Requirements of Memership
Article O of the Treaty on European Union (TEU) defines the basic membership criterion which is European identity. The same Article also outlines in broad terms the procedure for applying for membership of the Union. The general political principles which should be respected by current and future members of the EU are defined in Article F of the TEU, which stipulates that the Union shall (1) respect the national identities of its Member States, whose systems of government are founded on the principles of democracy, and (2) respect fundamental rights, as guaranteed by the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms signed in Rome on 4 November 1950 and as they result from the constitutional traditions common to the Member States, as general principles of Community law.
A distinction should be drawn between the formal membership criteria, which are spelled out in the Treaty and which are rather general, and the more detailed preconditions which applicant countries have to satisfy. These have been agreed upon during successive European Council meetings and are the following:
stability of institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law and human rights;
respect for and protection of minorities;
the existence of a functioning market economy;
the capacity to cope with competitive pressure and market forces within the Union;
the ability to adhere to the aims of political, economic and monetary union.1
In addition to these conditions, the Union' s capacity to absorb new members is also taken into consideration. The European Council has therefore decided that the functioning and the decision-making procedures of the Union institutions have to be improved in order to preserve the Union' s capacity for action, while maintaining and developing the acquis.
A number of conclusions may be drawn from the above list of the requirements for membership as expressed in various European Council declarations during the last couple of years:
both the Union and the applicant countries need to prepare in their own ways;
the preparedness of the applicants is to be assessed by means of a number of political and economic criteria;
the applicants will have to prepare more extensively than has been the case with previous enlargements because their political/legal systems will also be scrutinized by the EU;
the preparation of the Union requires institutional, financial and policy reform;
the process of negotiation and accession is seen as a collective effort, although somehow each applicant will be treated equally, but still on its own merits;
it is envisaged that, between now and the time of eventual accession, a multitude of channels of communication and cooperation between the Union and the applicants will be developed.
As is now well understood and widely acknowledged, the EU must first reform its common agricultural policy, its structural policies and its budgetary arrangements before it can accommodate the CEEC. However even if, in the course of the next four years, these policies and arrangements are appropriately reformed and the Intergovernmental Conference (IGC) adjusts EU institutions accordingly, it may be premature to assume that the CEEC will join the Union by the year 2000. Not only will they themselves have to be ready to assume the obligations of membership, but the mechanisms for assessing their readiness and of determining the terms of their accession will also have to be in place, and this could take considerable time.
As past experience has shown, the accession process, from the launch to the conclusion of the negotiations and further to the actual date of accession, is an extremely lengthy one. As demonstrated in the table, the length of time between the different stages of becoming a member varies considerably (for example, from four to 34 months between the application and the issuing of the Commission Opinion and from three to 33 months between the issuing of the Opinion and the start of the negotiations). Furthermore, the length of the negotiations varies considerably (from 14 to 80 months). All this means that an applicant country may wait a long time from the date of application, an average of six years, before actually acceding to the EU. As shown in the table, most members of the EU first had associate status before joining the Community or the Union.
The following section explains in what ways accession negotiations are more like entry examinations and less like negotiations between equal partners.
The Process of Accession Negotiations2
Here, a general framework of the negotiations for accession to the Union is outlined, based on the experience gained from the recent accession negotiations with Austria, Finland, Norway and Sweden. The purpose of this section is to highlight the different stages of the negotiations and the procedure that is followed.
The negotiations with those countries were carried out in a relatively short space of time (from February 1993 to March 1994), which can be explained by the fact that the EU and those countries had earlier concluded the European Economic Area Agreement (EEA Agreement). During the EEA negotiations a thorough analysis of the relevant national legislation of each country was carried out and after the negotiations were concluded, those countries were kept informed of any developments concerning the internal market and of any new measures that had to be adopted by them as well.
The accession negotiations were set up in parallel, but with separate tracks for each of the four countries. These negotiations which took the form of an IGC between the Twelve and the applicants were led by the Presidency with the help of the Commission, with a specially created Enlargement Task Force whose members were drawn from various Directorates-General of the Commission. The Council had also set up an ad hoc Enlargement Working Group which was assisted by the Council Secretariat.3
Accession negotiations serve several purposes:
to reach an greement on the terms of accession;
to adjust the Treaties to account for the participation of new members;
to define, if necessary, exceptions from general Treaty principles;
to determine the number, length and nature of transitional periods;
to determine the contribution of the applicant to the Community budget and define any other special form of budgetary adjustment;
to determine the size of the allocation of structural funds and cohesion funds and any other special form of assistance;
to define the timing and nature of participation of the new member in the common policies;
to determine any necessary adjustment of the common policies and;
to consider any other special measures to ease the adjustment process. The reasons for transitional periods are manifold and intend to provide time for the following:
* the adjustment of the economy of the new members,
* the adjustment of the EU itself,
* the implementation of the acquis by the new member,
* the establishment of agencies and enforcement mechanisms for Community legislation,
* the balancing of financial contributions and receipts.
The issues covered by the negotiations were arranged in 29 chapters. It is possible that during the next enlargement negotiations more chapters will be added to the list as a result of the extension in the acquis that may be brought about by the 1996 IGC. Certainly, the chapters on EMU, JHA and CFSP will be larger. Given the special circumstances of the CEEC, there could also be chapters on the functioning of their democratic institutions, the rights of their minorities, etc.
Before any negotiations took place, the Commission first explained the content of the acquis to the four applicants (this is known as screening' ). The applicants could either (1) accept the acquis in full, in which case no further negotiations were necessary, (2) request exploratory talks or (3) consider the acquis not to be directly applicable. If the applicants considered that they could not adopt the acquis they presented their views in special meetings with the Member States or Conferences' , in a so-called Position Paper, outlining why they would not be able to accept the acquis on their accession without transitional periods or derogations. These Position Papers could be withdrawn following explanation from the services of the Commission (exploratory talks), but if this was not the case a Draft Common Position (DCP) was prepared by the Commission (Task Force and competent services) in order to reply to the requests of the applicants on each negotiating point, and then forwarded to the Council.4
The DCP was then discussed with the Member States in the ad-hoc Enlargement Working Group of the Council, the purpose of which was to achieve common negotiating positions for the Twelve, which were then drafted unanimously as Common Positions (CP) of the Member States. The Presidency presented the CP to the Ambassadors or to the Ministers in the Conferences. When a subject could not be agreed upon by th conference at Ambassador level, it was passed on to the Ministers for decisions.
After the final political agreement had been achieved, legal drafts of the Accession Treaties, their Acts, Annexes and Protocols were prepared by the Commission. It was during these negotiations that the assent procedure of the Maastricht Treaty was used for the first time in an enlargement context. After the signing ceremony, the Accession Treaties had to be ratified by the Sixteen in accordance with their respective constitutional requirements.
During the negotiations with Austria, Finland, Sweden and Norway, several issues proved to be more complex than others.5 For the very difficult chapters, there were protracted negotiations and differences were resolved only at Ambassadorial or, mostly, Ministerial level. In general the difficult subjects had been those which were perceived by the applicant countries to be (a) inextricably linked with their national character (e.g. high environmental standards, high support for farmers), (b) vital to their national interest (e.g. fishing rights, oil exploration rights), or (c) detrimental to their standard of living if national measures were to be abolished or changed (e.g. alcohol and tobacco monopolies, restrictions on transit of heavy vehicles).
One of the purposes of the negotiations was to define the transitional periods for the incorporation of the acquis into the legislation of the new members and the granting of any derogations. Although in principle no permanent derogations are granted by the EU, a few were indeed conceded. By and large, these few permanent derogations are unimportant to the EU and no fundamental Treaty principle has been compromised.
Conclusion: What Kind of Timescale for the Next Enlargement?
Negotiations for the next enlargement of the Union will start six months after the 1996 IGC, first with Cyprus and Malta and perhaps with CEEC. Given that the EU has defined a pre-accession strategy, the negotiations may focus first on assessing the progress achieved in implementing the various components of that strategy. The length of the negotiations will depend on how well-prepared for accession the applicants will be, the number and nature of the derogations they will need, the length of the transitional periods they will request and the extent to which the Union will have adapted itself to receive new, relatively poorer members.
With the exception of the entry of the three former EFTA countries, experience suggests that accession negotiations are a protracted affair. The more derogations and qualifications of the acquis that are requested by the applicant countries, the more difficult and the more lengthy the negotiations are likely to be. Nonetheless, derogations/qualifications have been granted in the past and, therefore, are likely to be granted in the future. The applicant countries, however, have to exercise judgement and restraint if they aspire to a quick entry into the EU.
If the negotiations with Cyprus and Malta6 and some CEEC begin, say, in Spring 1998, they may easily last until after the year 2000. If the ratification process takes another year or two the earliest that their accession could be achieved would be around 2002. But by 2000 other CEEC will probably be ready to enter into negotiations with the EU. At that point the EU will face the dilemma of whether to ratify the agreements with only a handful of the applicant countries or delay the admission process until more countries are ready, so that they can all go in as a group.
The EU has already declared that each applicant will be treated on its own merits but this does not ncessarily mean that each applicant will accede as soon as it has satisfied the preconditions, since considerations such as group accessions will also be taken into account. The more members the EU acquires, the more cumbersome and time-consuming the process of negotiation of the terms of accession and of ratification of those terms for each new member.
Three obvious conclusions can be drawn from the preceding discussion.
First, the relatively quick accession of the former EFTA countries was
the exception rather than the rule. The next enlargement will take much
longer to complete. Second, if accession will not be achieved for at least
another six years then it makes sense to devote more attention to how the
links and cooperation between the EU and the applicants can be developed
further. Third, it also makes sense to consider more carefully a gradual
approach to accession, which emphasises more the completion of a well-defined
sequence of preparatory steps or stages. Since the EU has spelled out the
requirements of the internal market in its 1995 White Paper,7
it should consider extending a form of the European Economic Area to the
CEEC. This will indeed ensure that they prepare for eventual membership.
EC Commission (1992), Europe and the Challenge of Enlargement' , Bulletin of the European Communities, Supplement 3.
European Commission (1995), Background report: Impact of the Three New Member States on the European Union.
European Commission (1995), White Paper: Preparation of the Associated Countries of Central and Eastern Europe for Integration into the Internal Market of the Union.
Booß D. and J. Forma (1995), Enlargement: Legal and Procedural Aspects' , in Common Market Law Review, Vol. 32.
Granell, F. (1995), The European Union' s Enlargement Negotiations with Austria, Finland, Norway and Sweden' , in Journal of Common Market Studies, Vol. 33, No. 1.
Jorna, M. (1995), The Accession Negotiations with Austria, Sweden, Finland and Norway: A Guided Tour' , in European Law Review, Vol. 20, No. 2.
Ludlow, P (1995), Preparing for Membership, (Brussels: Centre for European Policy Studies).
Missiroli, A. (1995), The New Kids on the EU Block: Austria, Finland and Sweden' , in The International Spectator, Vol. XXX, No.4.
Nicolaides, P. and A. Close (1995), Accession to the European Union: the Ultimate Bargain' , in The Political Economy of European Integration, F. Laursen (ed.), European Institute of Public Administration, Maastricht.
Nicholson, F. and R. East (1987), From the Six to the Twelve: The
Enlargement of the European Communities, (Harlow, Essex: Longman).
1 During the deliberations at the European Council meeting in Copenhagen in June 1993, France proposed a more detailed list of criteria which in the end did not appear in the final communiqué. It is worth recalling what they were because it will not be surprising if they re-emerge at a later date. The French list' of admission criteria included the following: (a) a measure of economic development (in terms of GDP/capita), (b) a measure of market economy (in terms of privately held assets), (c) quantifiable level of social protection, (d) control over public debt and inflation, (g) open economy, (h) modern fiscal system and (i) administrative capacity to implement EU law.
2 This section is based on interviews with Commission and national officials from the EU and the applicant countries. It also draws on various articles analysing the procedures and results of the negotiations (see the titles cited in the list of references).
3 For the forthcoming accession negotiations a new task force has been set up in the Commission under the acronym of GISELA (Groupe Interservice Elargissement). It is a network of experts from all the Commission Directorates-General plus the Secretariat General, the Legal Service, the Statistical Office, the Cellule Prospective, the Task Force JHA, the Task Force IGC and Euratom.
4 Matters going beyond simple technical adaptations and requiring substantial temporary derogations were decided in the Council Drafting Committee or if necessary by the Deputies or even Ministers, resulting in an amended DCP.
5 These were environmental, health and safety standards, agricultural policy, regional policy, state monopolies (alcohol, tobacco), taxation (VAT), fisheries (fishing rights), budgetary provisions (contributions, receipts), transport policy (transit), energy (oil exploration).
6 At the time of writing of this article, a new government had been elected in Malta. The election manifesto of the new prime minister included among other things a pledge to withdraw Malta' s application for membership of the EU. It is, therefore, unclear whether Malta will indeed begin accession negotiations at the same time as Cyprus.
7 European Commission (1995), White Paper: Preparation of the Associated Countries of Central and Eastern Europe for Integration into the Internal Market of the Union.