Thursday, November 26, 2009
***Bildt talks enlargement in European Parliament...***
***What is the situation in the negotiations on EU enlargement? Minister for Foreign Affairs Carl Bildt and Commissioner Ollie Rehn answered that question in a debate in the European Parliament on Wednesday. “I am pleased with the progress made during the Swedish Presidency, and there is still time left”, said Carl Bildt.
In his opening remarks at the Parliament, the Minister for Foreign Affairs said:
“After the major enlargement, with which the EU gained around 100 million new citizens, we are now focusing on the countries of South Eastern Europe – this could also bring in 100 million people. It will not be a quick or simple process.”
Hopes of progress
Carl Bildt gave a short report on the situation for the various countries with a membership perspective.
“Our ambition is to help all the countries of the Western Balkans move forward in the process. And I hope that we will be able to see some progress for all of them by the end of the year.”
The Minister for Foreign Affairs said that a decision on visa liberalisation for citizens of Serbia, Montenegro and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia who want to travel to the EU is expected on 19 December.
“This is a large and important step forward.”
When it comes to Croatia, the accession process is moving forward now that the dispute with Slovenia is no longer obstructing progress.
“As for the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, I hope that the Council will be able to report concrete steps forward in the country’s accession process in December.”
On Turkey, Carl Bildt said that the country’s new initiative on Kurdish rights is a major step forward.
“This initiative from the Government is very bold and very important. But the initiative has not been concluded yet. It is the subject of an intense and, to some degree, bitter domestic political debate, with parts of the opposition very strongly opposed to increased rights for the Kurds.”
Commissioner Rehn said in his opening remarks that Turkey has a long way to go before it can become a member of the EU.
“Despite the reforms that have been carried out, we cannot ignore the Cyprus issue and the Ankara Protocol.”
Many views were presented in the debate, both for and against Turkey joining the EU.
“Enlargement is the best method we have for driving forward reform work and improving countries’ fundamental rights”, said Ollie Rehn after the debate.
During the year, membership applications have been received from Montenegro, Albania and Iceland.
“The applications from Montenegro and Albania have been forwarded to the Commission and I expect we will be able to hear its view in a year or so”, said Minister for Foreign Affairs Carl Bildt.
“With its thousand years of democratic tradition and its membership of the EU’s internal market through the EEA, it is clear that Iceland is already well on the way to membership”, said Mr Bildt.
One MEP commented that it is countries with weak economies that want to join the EU. When Iceland’s economy was strong, the country did not want to be a member of the EU, but when the economy became weaker it became interested.
“This shows that EU membership gives better opportunities for economic development. Countries that have had poor economic development see EU membership as a way to better economic development. So integration works as an anchor for economic policy and that is a good thing”, said Carl Bildt after the meeting.