The future of EU enlargement: Finland’s special status in the process

Enlargement is one of the central goals of Finnish EU politics and thus Finland has consistently supported the enlargement process. Along with the enlargement process, bilateral relations with new member states have become closer.[1] According to the Finnish point of view, there is no need to restart discussing the enlargement policies of the Union. The Finnish position on the Commission’s enlargement strategy and progress reports is the following: 1) the enlargement strategy of the Commission is consistent with the Finnish goals regarding enlargement. 2) The intention of the Commission to pay more attention to public administration and judicial systems is seen as a positive issue in Finland. 3) Finland also shares the position of the Commission regarding the progress of Croatia, Turkey, Macedonia/FYROM, Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro, Serbia and Kosovo.[2] Finland has traditionally emphasized progress in fulfilling the commitments both in the enlargement negotiations as in the SAA process.[3]

Holding the Balkans on the Euro-Atlantic course

The Estonian government’s firm support to enlargement remains unchanged. Estonian officials insist that enlargement should continue according to the principles agreed to in December 2006.[1] A clear accession prospect should be given to candidates and potential candidate countries in order to retain their motivation to carry out political and economic reforms, while also retaining stringent conditionality.[2] Internal reforms, however, are only part of the rationale. The government also argues that „a larger Union of like-minded states will have more influence in the globalizing world and will be in a better position to benefit from globalization.”[3] Assuming a somewhat didactic position in relation to the candidate countries, and emphasizing its own success in carrying out painful reforms, Estonia calls on the candidates to do their homework.

Former Yugoslavia – major challenge for EU

The Western Balkans EU-accession
The Danish Parliament strongly supports the Commission’s strategy paper. Denmark considers it to be in Europe’s interest to support political and economic development in the Western Balkans. The overall goal for the Danish policy in the region is to contribute to a positive political, economic and social development that helps to promote the region’s accession to the EU and NATO, especially concerning Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia and Kosovo. Especially the principle of own merits, clear commitments and clarity concerning the steps of the accession process are emphasised by the Danish Foreign Ministry[1].
The Danish Parliament stands by the EU-membership perspective for the countries in the Western Balkans. However, it is clear that the former Yugoslavia has developed into a major challenge for the EU, especially regarding the Kosovo, Bosnia-Herzegovina, FYROM and Albania. Only Croatia and, to a limited extent, Montenegro are considered a ‘success story’[2].
Turkish membership

Debate still going on on the two prominent topics: Kosovo and Turkey

From a general perspective, the Czech Republic has been a consistent supporter of further enlargement. Although some Czech political forces oppose Turkey’s accession, there is not a shade of doubt about the need to embrace the countries of the Western Balkans as new members. In recent months, two topics gained prominence in the public discourse on South-Eastern Europe: The first was, unsurprisingly, the future status of Kosovo; the second was the Turkish membership.

Focus on Turkey’s possible future accession

In relation to the EU Enlargement process, the most pertinent issue in Cyprus is the increasingly convoluted prospect of Turkey’s possible future accession. In this connection, the Republic of Cyprus fully supports the points laid out in the Annual Strategy Document on Enlargement of the European Commission, dated 11 November 2007.

EC Progress report on Croatia: critical but objective?

In Croatia, media coverage of the Commission’s Enlargement Strategy, as well as reactions from the Government, opposition parties and NGOs have been focussed on the Croatia 2007 Progress Report. Prevailing opinion is that the Commission’s Report is objective, but different segments of public have rather wide spectrum of views on it, whether it is positive or critical.
The Prime Minister Sanader claims that the Report is very positive for Croatia, and that the Commission recognised progress in all areas.[1] On the other hand, the opposition parties are of the opinion that the European Commission gave critical opinion on the progress towards the EU.[2] Reactions from NGOs indicate that the Commission’s Progress Report is objective, while highlights vary in line with specific interests. War veterans are concerned with political criteria, i.e. return of refugees and regional cooperation.[3] The coordination of GLTB NGOs focuses on limited progress in the area of protection of human minority rights and lack of national strategy and action plan for all types of discrimination.[4] Animal Friends Croatia highlights the necessity for implementing Directive 93/119/EC on the protection of animals at the time of slaughter or killing.[5]

Support for active EU engagement with Western Balkans

Bulgaria welcomes the progress made by Western Balkans countries and shares the concerns expressed in the Strategy Document on EU enlargement published by the Commission in November 2007. Bulgaria supports the European and Euro-Atlantic integration of all Western Balkans countries.[1] It has signed bilateral agreements with all the countries of the Western Balkans for exchange of expertise and know-how in the process of European integration.[2]
As Slovenia assumed the Presidency of the EU on 1 January 2008, Bulgaria pledges full support for Slovenian initiatives and will back up efforts for all necessary reforms in the countries of the Western Balkans on their way to a closer European perspective.[3]

Ensuring stability on the Western Balkans

The stabilisation of the Western Balkans and its integration into the European project in the middle and long run has been one of the priorities of the Austrian foreign strategy. Generally speaking, comments, be it from the side of politicians or the media, have been rather benign in regard to the Western Balkan countries, whereas Austria is known to be one of the greatest opponents of a possible Turkish EU membership.
Whereas Austria’s official foreign strategy aims to keep up a European perspective for Balkan countries, the Austrian public shows rather low support for further enlargements. And this trend seems to gain further momentum with the increasing feeling of insecurity in light of media reports on increased crime and the fear for the maintenance of the welfare state. Only Croatia’s accession is generally supported by the Austrian public. Even members of the FPÖ have expressed their support for Croatia’s accession.