The Future of the Enlargement Process
On 3 October 2005 the General Affairs and External Relations Council agreed on opening accession negotiations with Croatia and Turkey, which since 2004 and 1999 respectively had been granted the status of accession candidates. Particularly with respect to the document on Turkey, the negotiating framework, which sets out the key parameters for negotiations with these two countries, contains items that are of importance to Austria. These are the stipulation that explicit account be taken of the European Union’s capacity to absorb new members as a prerequisite for accession and the reference to the necessary acceptance of a potential accession by the citizens of the Union and fair sharing of the financial burden by all Member States.
The European Council of December 2006 outlined a strategy for further steps in the process of European enlargement, which takes account of elements important to Austria. The pace of enlargement is determined by the EU’s capacity to absorb new members, which will be assessed by the Commission based on an analysis of the impact a country’s accession has on major policy areas (impact studies). On the basis of the impact studies and of the renewed consensus on enlargement, as defined by the December 2006 European Council, the annual enlargement strategy papers are elaborated. The Western Balkan region remains a central part of the enlargement strategy and the Commission highlighted again the European perspective for those countries.
Macedonia holds the status of accession candidate since December 2005. Accession negotiations have not started yet, since Macedonia has not met all the necessary conditions by now. On 15 December 2008 Montenegro submitted a formal application for membership into the European Union to the French president of the European Council. Following the positive avis of the European Commission, Montenegro gained status of accession candidate at the European Council on 16 December 2010. Albania also formally applied for EU membership on 28 April 2009, however, due to shortcomings - in particular in the political sphere - Albania was not granted status of candidate country yet.
The European Commission’s Progress Report, dated November 2010, stated that accession negotiations with Croatia had entered its final phase. During the following months negotiations on the remaining chapters were continued under Hungarian Council Presidency. On 30 June 2011, the last chapters of the six-year long process were closed. The signature and ratification of the accession treaty by all EU Member States represent the next step before Croatia’s actual accession to the European Union.
Iceland, which had suffered hard from the 2008 financial and economic crisis, submitted its application for membership on 17 July 2009. At the same time, a Parliamentary decision determined that once negotiations were completed, a public referendum will be needed to endorse Iceland’s actual accession to the EU. Following a positive avis of the European Commission in February 2010, the European Council decided to open negotiations on 17 June 2010. The opening conference of Iceland’s accession negotiations started on 27 July 2010. The screening process, that is the analytical assessment of the EU-acquis through the European Commission, was launched in November 2010. In the meantime four chapters have been opened, two of them provisionally closed. As a long-standing member of the European Economic Area, Iceland has already implemented large parts of the EU acquis. However, Iceland must initiate reforms in some areas, in order to fulfil the Union’s criteria and to make its accession possible.
Regarding Turkey, 13 chapters have been opened since the beginning of negotiations in 2005: Free movement of capital; Company law; Intellectual property law; Information society and media; Consumer and health protection; Trans-European networks; Environment; Financial control; Science and research; Statistics; Enterprise and industrial policy. After successful negotiations the chapter on science and research was provisionally closed.
The rather sluggish progress being made in the accession negotiations with Turkey compared to Croatia is due to the principle that progress is measured against the candidate’s countries achievements in the reform process. Moreover, Turkey still refuses to comply with its obligations under the Ankara Protocol on extending the provisions on customs union with the EU to all new Member States including Cyprus. Consequently, the EU Foreign Ministers decided in December 2006 to completely freeze eight of the negotiation chapters relating to North Cyprus and to refrain from provisionally closing any of the remaining chapters.
On the topic of accession negotiations with Turkey, the Austrian government programme for the 24th legislation period states that "a targeted and at the same time gentle rapprochement of Turkey and its population to European values and standards is in the interest of all Member States of the European Union. Austria has succeeded in establishing the Union’s capacity to absorb new member states as important criteria and in ensuring that the negotiations with Turkey are an open-ended process. Austria advocates a gradual process aimed initially at establishing a specifically defined, tailor-made Turkish-European community. Once a negotiation outcome of which the target is accession has been reached, the Austrian citizens will at all events have the final say in a referendum."