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FINANCIAL TIMES- October 6, 2002
2002-10-07 22:27:58

"EU entrants set to wrap up talks by December
By Judy Dempsey and Rainer Koch in Brussels

The European Commission will on Wednesday conclude that 10 countries, the majority former communist states, will be ready to wrap up enlargement negotiations by December at the summit of European Union heads of state in Copenhagen.

But the Commission falls short of offering Turkey a date for starting negotiations and instead pledges to double the amount of "pre-accession" financial assistance to the Ankara government to nearly 300m ($296m) by 2006.

The conclusions, spelt out in an 84-page report, mark a milestone for the EU and for the countries of eastern and central Europe and the Baltic states.

They confirm that for the first time in the EU's history, it has been possible to pursue a dual-track strategy of transformation and enlargement negotiations, begun with the collapse of the Berlin Wall in November 1989.

During the past 13 years, the candidate countries have adopted radical programmes to transform their economies and political structures away from the heavily-centralised models of the communist era to more market-orientated and liberal institutions.

At the same time, once the EU had decided to formally open negotiations, these countries had to adopt the 80,000 page acquis communautaire, the battery of legislation that each country must put in place by the time of membership.

The conclusions, contained in the annual reports drawn up by the Commission, track progress by all candidate countries, including Romania and Bulgaria who may join the EU by the end of the decade, and Turkey.

Of all the 13 candidate countries, Turkey is the only one that has not yet started negotiations. The Commission says that despite the reforms of last August, when Turkey abolished the death penalty, it has yet to fulfil the so-called "Copenhagen Criteria" - the preconditions any country should meet. These include respect for human and ethnic rights, ending torture, a free press and a market economy.

The Commission says that the three Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, as well as Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia and Malta and Cyprus, will be ready to conclude enlargement negotiations by December.

However, the reports do not shy away from pinpointing big deficiencies by several of these countries. The Commission says corruption is still a problem, in particular, economic crime.

The judicial system has to be strengthened as well, with the need for more judges, more access by the public to the courts and more transparency. There is also a considerable backlog in dealing with cases, although EU officials said that was also a problem for member states.

The administrative capacity for implementing the acquis is still either too weak or ill-equipped in terms of personnel in putting into effect legislation. And there are considerable concerns about the competitiveness of many of these countries once they join the EU.

These ten countries are scheduled to join by mid-2004, in time for the European Parliament elections.

However, G?nter Verheugen, the enlargement commissioner, has built in a detailed set of monitoring mechanisms once the negotiations are concluded.

He has insisted all new member states be subject to stringent reviews, particularly over implementation of the acquis, even to the small but important details of veterinary and abattoir standards.

Indeed, there will be another big review of these monitoring processes "three months" before the candidate countries join, to make sure that they will be really ready to participate in the EU. The idea is to reassure a sceptical public, especially since national parliaments among the 15 member states will have to ratify these accession treaties."

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