Croatia to be the 28th EU Memeber State?

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A meeting of the EU-Croatia Joint Parliamentary Committee has concluded that,

“Croatian Accession negotiations can be concluded in the first half of 2011 provided that Croatia meets all the outstanding closing benchmarks in the remaining chapters.”

Swedish EPP MEP, who co-chairs the EU-Croatia Joint Parliamentary Committee stressed the importance to the Balkans of Croatia joining the EU.

“Both for the EU and for the region, it is important that the conditionality linked to a credible EU enlargement process remains a strong incentive for reform. In this sense, the Croatian case is very important for regional dynamics because it can swing the doors wide open for the rest of the region. The goal is to have mutually cooperating countries of the Western Balkans inside the EU. We also expect that Croatia, as a Member State, will be actively contributing to EU policy in the region.”

“A credible enlargement also means Croatia has to be fully prepared for membership. Since our last meeting, the country has substantially advanced in EU negotiations and the end is in sight. It is now very important that Croatia engages all its reform potential in order to make sure that there are no hesitations left in anybody’s mind when the time comes to say yes to EU accession.”

Currently 34 (out of 35) accession chapters have been opened for negotiations between the EU and Croatia, and 25 chapters have been provisionally closed. So Croatia is making good speed on implementing the acquis communautaire of the EU.

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Montenegro now a Candidate Country for EU Membership

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The European Commission has decided to add Montenegro to the list of Candidate Countries. In an opinion issued on the 9th of November the Commission stated:

On Montenegro, the Commission concluded that Montenegro is ready to become a candidate country to EU membership, while further reforms are needed in a number of key areas, as set out in the opinion, before the country is ready to start accession negotiations.

Montenegro still has criteria to meet under a few headings, Political Criteria, Economic Criteria and EU Legislation.

Political Criteria

Montenegro needs to address the following:

  • The effectiveness of anti-discrimination policies,
  • Freedom of expression,
  • Government relations with civil society
  • The situation of displaced persons from Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo.

Economic Criteria

In this area Montenegro needs to

needs to further address internal and external unbalances, as well as weaknesses, notably in the financial sector and the functioning of labour markets. To be able to cope in the medium term with competitive pressure and market forces within the Union, Montenegro needs to continue implementing reforms and reducing structural weaknesses.

EU Legislation

In this area Montenegro needs to work on the following areas to align them with EU Legislation and Rules,

  • freedom of movement for workers, services and capital,
  • public procurement,
  • competition,
  • services,
  • information society and media,
  • transport policy,
  • energy,
  • economic and monetary policy,
  • consumer and Health Protection.

With this, Montenegro joins Croatia, Iceland, FYR Macedonia and Turkey as Candidate Countries.

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European Young Journalist Award 2010

Again this year DG Enlargement are running the European Young Journalist Award 2010. (post on last years competition is here). Its simple, if your aged between 17-35 you can enter the competition. All you need to do is send them a copy of your published work and your in the competition. The work must be published between the 1 October 2007 to 28 February 2010. This means you can still get stuff done for it. The 28 February is also the dealine for submissions. The competition is open to citizens of the 27 EU Member States, Candidate Countries (Croatia, Turkey and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia), or Potential Candidate Countries (Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Serbia andKosovo under UNSCR 1244/99) and Iceland and the must be written / presented in an official language of one of the EU Member States, Candidate Countries or Potential Candidates or in Icelandic.

See more of the rules here

Winners of the Competition will travel to Istanbul in May 2010 for a cultural and historical trip. Istanbul, Europe’s Capital of Culture for 2010, provides an ideal location for the winners to enlarge their vision through cultural exchange. The trip will end with a conference where views will be exchanged with leading international analysts about European culture, identity and EU Enlargement.

In addition to national winners being selected in all 36 participating countries, three special prizes will be awarded in the following categories: “Most original”, “Best research” and “Best journalistic style”. The special prize winners, who will be selected by a European jury from the national winners, will be announced during the winner’s trip in Istanbul. Each of the special prize winners will win a cultural trip to a European capital of their choice.

See the competition website for more details and to upload your entry

PS My post, Where does Europe End? – The future challenges of EU Enlargement is my entry to the competition.

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Where does Europe End? – The future challenges of EU Enlargement.

Where does Europe End, is one of the often asked questions when talking about the enlargement of the European Union.  With the current negotiations with Turkey progressing (albeit slowly) the next challenge will be where next? Will the accession of Turkey see Syria (Middle East) or Armenia (Western Asia) applying for membership?

That is of course dependent on Turkey being integrated into the EU’s structures as that itself will involve reform of the institutions. Turkey if its joins will be the second largest EU member state in terms of population, second only to that of Germany. This will mean that voting weights and seats in the European Parliament will have to be moved around to satisfy the older member states. The accession, or possible accession of, Croatia, Macedonia, Serbia, Montenegro, Iceland, Albania, Kosovo and Bosnia and Herzegovina, do not present the same challenges to the EU institutions and can easily be absorbed into the institutions, though maybe not all at once.

But after Turkey will the EU expand beyond the Balkans? Will the Ukraine or Belarus (both with large populations) apply to join? Belarus may be a long way off, but Ukraine may apply before negotiations with Turkey finish. Will the Europe Union start looking beyond Europe for members? Will Morocco reapply? Could Cape Verde, due to its close ties to the EU and proximity to the Canary Islands, apply?

These are the challenges that face the EU after it deals with the issue of Turkish accession. That is dependent of course on there being an appetite for the further expansion of the European Union. Older Member States seem reluctant to expand the EU further. Opposition to Turkish accession seems to be strongest in the likes of Germany and France. There is a quasi racism to this opposition, but also there is a weariness of expansion. This is evidenced by the fears of the “Plombier polonaise”, Polish Plumber, in France after the accession of Poland and the other Central and Eastern European States in 2004.

Beyond France the limits on the immigration of workers from Bulgaria and Romania after accession in most EU member states shows the unwillingness of member states to completely open up to new members of the union.  This shows the reluctance of member states to fully open up to new members. This in the future translate could translate to the end of enlargement of the European Union after the accession of the current candidate states.

The accession of more states from Eastern Europe and the Balkans will mean a further move of power away from Western Europe. Upon the accession of the Balkans, they will be a formidable Eastern European bloc within the EU. This will again see more changes being made to the institutions of the EU. Again the interplay here with Turkey on its accession with other member states and would it be more Eastern or Western in its outlook is what has most political leaders worried.

Another issue at stake is the feelings of ordinary European Citizens. While citizens of applicant states get a say in whether or not a country joins the EU, normally through referenda,  the citizens of countries already members have no say. There is growing resentment to this situation and this in turn fuels far rights groups as they promise referenda on future EU enlargement, often though this has been offered by not so far right groups in ordinary to entice voters back!

EU enlargement is turning into a minefield and the EU, member states and applicant states must be cautious on how they approach it.

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