EU Summit shuts door on enlargement

EU leaders agree to disagree on how to handle law and security issues


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The European Summit held on December 14-15 will be go down as rubber-stamping the decisions of the Council meeting of foreign ministers held on December 11. Learning from the past and gauging the mood of the Vox Populi of the European nations, the declaration adopted at the Brussels summit said, “The Union will refrain from setting any target dates for accession until the negotiations are close to completion.”

A new, tougher enlargement policy is set to impact not only on Turkey and Croatia but also on FYROM, Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro, Albania and possibly Kosovo, which are waiting in line to join. It is also a setback for the EU aspirations of Georgia and Ukraine.

The communique underlined that new members will only be admitted if the old member states are satisfied they can deal with financial, social and institutional burdens the applicants pose.

Although the EU enlargement debate is theoretical, given the crunch will not come before 2010 at the earliest, there seemed an urgency to nip any unwanted aspirations in the bud. Negotiations with Turkey were partially frozen last week and front-runner Croatia is still at a very early stage in its accession talks.

Despite the discord, the anti-expansion camp won an important victory with leaders approving a more stringent application process, tougher scrutiny of reforms and a new test on whether existing members can “absorb” potential newcomers.

The new strategy, in essence, repudiates the system under which Bulgaria and Romania secured their January 1, 2007 admission deadline. Back in 2002, EU leaders set 2007 as the target for both countries to join the bloc. Today, some EU members regret this promise given that both countries are still viewed as having deficits in legal affairs, corruption and organised crime fighting.

“We know we cannot take in every state that wants to join,” said German Chancellor Angela Merkel, a Christian Democrat who opposes Turkey’s EU membership. Merkel said the EU had to resolve a crisis over its failed constitution – aimed at streamlining EU decision-making – before taking in any states beyond Bulgaria and Romania.

“The constitutional treaty and expansion are closely linked,” said Merkel, who has vowed to make revival of the constitution a top issue during Germany’s EU presidency in the first half of 2007.

Voters in France and the Netherlands rejected the constitution in 2005. This torpedoed the treaty which must be approved by all member states. So far 18 countries have ratified the constitution.

Backing Merkel’s go-slow views on expansion were the leaders of Luxembourg, Belgium and The Netherlands. France is also wary about swift, further enlargement.

A Belgian proposal to bar further enlargement without a constitutional deal was withdrawn after it ran into opposition from pro-enlargement countries, said Luxembourg’s Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker.

EU countries which want the club’s doors to stay open are Britain, Sweden and most of the central and eastern European states who joined the EU in 2004.

Adding a new absorption criteria clearly aimed at Turkey, Germany’s Merkel said the size of a candidate country should play a role in any decision on whether it would be admitted.

Preparing for her bid to resurrect the constitution under the German presidency, Merkel said she had asked each member state to appoint a “constitution czar” to report on their respective demands.

Diplomats predict Merkel will seek a slimmed-down constitution which could be approved in the French and Dutch parliaments without again resorting to a dangerous referendum in both countries.

In other business, leaders vowed to stem the flow of illegal immigrants by increasing aid to poor African nations and giving temporary work permits to foreigners.

With “Fortress Europe” crumbling under pressure from economic migrants and asylum-seekers, especially from Africa, EU leaders said they would increase border controls in problem regions.

Leaders said special attention would be paid to toughening maritime border surveillance through the creation of a new permanent Coastal Control Network along the EU’s southern Mediterranean borders.

EU officials say about half a million illegal immigrants enter the bloc each year. Spain, Italy and Greece are in the frontline in the struggle to curb the flow.

Moreover, the leaders also agreed that EU states must work together on fighting crime – but disagreed on whether to lift the national veto on questions of police and judicial co-operation, accused Iran and Syria of destabilising the Middle East, expressed deep concern about the deteriorating situation in Darfur and endorsed a five-point Middle-East peace initiative.

Javier Solana, the statement making High Representative, when asked about Israel’s nuclear arsenal and Iranian situation, repeatedly stressed, “The EU position is that there should be no Weapons of Mass Destruction in the Middle East.” One was left wondering if Israel was not in Middle East or the position did not apply to it.

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