Latvia endorses EU Enlargement and the European Neighbourhood Policy

Dzintra Bungs

Latvia firmly believes in the further enlargement of the European Union. As the erstwhile Latvian Minister of Foreign Affairs Māris Riekstiņš told Turkey’s Minister of European Affairs and chief EU negotiator Egemen Bagiş on 26 February 2010, “[A]ny European country which has demonstrated its desire to join the European Union and has committed itself to carrying out the internal reforms and fulfilling the essential criteria must be given this opportunity.”[1] An important reason for this, as Riekstiņš has stressed on other occasions, is the significance of the enlargement policy in securing stability in Europe.[2] Latvia endorses enlargement if it is grounded in an individual approach and the fulfilment of EU membership criteria.

Considering the four EU membership candidate countries, Croatia, Iceland, Macedonia and Turkey, Latvia anticipates that Croatia could become eligible for membership by the next enlargement round, especially since the border dispute with Slovenia appears to be close to settlement. Macedonia and Turkey have not made as much progress toward fulfilling the Copenhagen criteria. Moreover, a conspicuous factor standing in the way of Macedonia’s progress toward EU accession is the unresolved quarrel with Greece over the name “Macedonia”.

Turkish membership perspective currently discussed

Katia Hristova
Bulgaria has always declared support for the accession efforts of present day candidate countries. Although Iceland’s membership does not constitute an issue in public debate, attention is focused on the steps undertaken by Turkey and Croatia to speed up their negotiations. Croatia is expected to lead the way to the next enlargement round. Government officials have declared Bulgaria’s support for Croatia’s membership several times. Moreover, public opinion leaders share the view that Croatia’s accession will open up prospects for future concrete steps in the integration of the other Western Balkan countries.[1]
In parallel with this, the Foreign Ministry is starting a review of Bulgaria’s policy towards the Western Balkans, which is one of the priority areas in Bulgarian foreign policy. Bulgaria is also ambitious to take part in the debate about a new approach towards the region, as well as to help the “the internal motors” of reform start in the countries there.

Germany more realistic and less enthusiastic of further enlargements; Neighbourhood Policy projects assessed positively

Katrin Böttger and Daniela Caterina
Of the three current accession candidates Croatia, Macedonia and Turkey, only Croatia is expected to be part of the next enlargement round. Macedonia is not mentioned much in the public debate and Turkey is a special case of concern in Germany due to the Turkish minority living in the country. In addition, Iceland is expected to join soon. As for future enlargements, the general opinion in Germany is that it has to be done “by the book”, which means in a controlled and not turbo way. This resonates in the government’s coalition agreement of the new conservative/liberal government which backs an “enlargement policy with a sense of proportion”.[1]
Recently, less favourable voices are on the rise. In general, the German public views a membership of more than the current 27 member states critically. 66 percent of Germans (compared to 46 percent of Europeans in average) are against further enlargement of the EU.[2] For example, at his acceptance speech on the Sonning Prize, the German author Hans Magnus Enzensberger criticised the EU’s enlargement frenzy.[3] However, the former Commissioner Günter Verheugen assumes that the enlargement waves will continue and cannot be stopped since the process has a dynamic of its own.[4]
Croatia – fighting corruption and privatisation seen as most urgent

Spain backs future EU enlargements

Ignacio Molina
Having only joined the European Communities in 1986, thirty years after the signature of the Rome Treaty and ten years after the end of Franco’s dictatorship, Spain’s official position has always backed the idea that enlargement is a central element of the EU integration process and that further enlargement towards relatively new democracies in the Western Balkans and Turkey is a political priority that will contribute to peace and stability in Europe. Notwithstanding this, it must also be stressed that, in general, enlargement is a topic without relevance in the mass media and in domestic political debate.[1] Even so, the programme of the Spanish EU Presidency was also ambitious on this dimension.[2]

Western Balkans to join the European family, Turkey to open its ports and airports

Nicoleta Athanasiadou, Costas Melakopides and Christos Xenophontos
Following the Slovenians’ vote in favour of their government’s agreement to accept the verdict of an international panel in mediating the dispute on the Bay of Piran, Cypriot diplomats expressed the belief that Croatia will be able to complete its membership talks with Brussels in the coming year, putting the country on track to become the EU’s 28th member in 2012.[1]
According to our Ministry of Foreign Affairs interlocutors, Cyprus supports the Western Balkans aspirations to join the European family, adding that the resolution of the maritime dispute between Croatia and Slovenia sends a significant message to other countries in the region that wish to become EU members: namely, to resolve any bilateral issues that might block their EU talks.[2] An obvious example is the name dispute between the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) and Greece: an agreed upon settlement will definitely speed up FYROM’s accession prospects.

Portugal: a supporter of further enlargement

Luis Pais Antunes
Portuguese support to the accession of new member states, in particular in the cases of Iceland and Croatia, is clearly not a priority in these difficult times. There are several reasons for this. Of course, the feeling that Europe should find the most adequate instruments to face the current crisis before opening its doors again is probably the main one. But the fact that we are talking about distant countries may also justify this apparent lack of interest. In the last available Eurobarometer, Portuguese level of support to the accession of Iceland and Croatia was clearly below the EU-27 average. One of the few cases where the Portuguese level of support was greater than the EU-27 average was Turkey (with around 50 percent compared to 45 percent).
Among the government and the main political parties there is an apparent consensus over the fact that no candidate should be in a privileged position and that the normal procedures have to be respected. Delegations of candidate countries often pay a visit to Portuguese institutions (not only parliament and government, but also civil society organisations) and receive encouragements on their quest.

In front of the gates of Europe

Biljana Janeva
The Republic of Macedonia strongly supports the EU enlargement process for all Western Balkan countries. The Western Balkan region is the only region which is bordered by the EU on all sides. However, not only its geography, but also its multiculturalism and rich multiethnic history make it only natural that it belongs to Europe.
Since Croatia solved the bilateral issue with Slovenia, it is clear that it is advancing to the EU’s doorstep. The Republic of Macedonia was also part of the package for accession into the EU, and, having spent five years as a candidate country, it has so far fulfilled the conditions and benchmarks set by the EU and received a recommendation by the EU Commission in order to obtain a start date for the accession negotiations. The only remaining obstacle keeping the Republic of Macedonia from receiving a start date from the EU is the bilateral issue with its southern neighbour – an absurd dispute over Macedonia’s constitutional name imposed by Greece. Yet, the Republic of Macedonia is willing to cooperate and to solve this issue in order to take a step further and start negotiations. Nevertheless, the name issue is a very sensitive issue for the Macedonian people, touching their identity and language.

Public attitudes on enlargement mixed

Brendan Donnelly
Enlargement and related questions for the future of the European Union are rarely discussed at a popular level in the United Kingdom. To the extent that they are, public attitudes are mixed, with concern about competition for jobs from Eastern European workers gaining salience. At the political and official level, the question of the Union’s enlargement is one of much greater interest, not least because it has traditionally been regarded by British political circles as a policy which would undermine Franco-German leadership within the European Union and act as a brake on the deepening of political integration. Both these goals have seen desirable aspirations to successive British governments of recent decades.
The next round of enlargement

Sweden in favour of enlargements and co-initiator of the Eastern Partnership

Gunilla Herolf
The Swedish government is strongly in favour of the continued enlargement of the EU and sought to bring the process of enlargement forward as much as possible during its Presidency in the latter half of 2009. The Western Balkan countries are seen to be the closest to accession, albeit some are further ahead than others. Icelandic talks are hoped to be initiated soon as well.
For the first country in line, Croatia, Sweden acted to facilitate the agreement to take the border dispute between Slovenia and Croatia to a court of arbitration. Nine out of 35 Croatian negotiation chapters were closed during autumn 2009. Furthermore, Iceland submitted its application for EU membership in July 2009 and Serbia did the same in December 2009. An important step in the process of integration leading to membership is visa-free travelling. In July 2009, citizens of Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia, effective from 19 December 2009, were allowed to travel freely in most of Europe.[1]