Toespraak eurocommissaris Rehn (uitbreiding) over voortgang van alle kandidaten voor toetreding (en)

Olli Rehn

EU Commissioner for Enlargement

Accession process of Turkey, Croatia and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia - making progress in challenging circumstances

EP Plenary session

Strasbourg, 11 March 2009

President, Honourable Members,

Today's debate provides an opportunity to review the accession process in the three candidate countries, Croatia, Turkey and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

Starting with Croatia, Mr Swoboda's draft resolution addresses the main challenges Croatia is facing today.

From a general perspective, accession negotiations with Croatia have generally been going well. This is why the Commission proposed in November 2008 an indicative roadmap to reach the final stage of accession negotiations by the end of 2009, provided Croatia fulfils the conditions.

Unfortunately, accession negotiations with Croatia are now stalled because of the border issue.

Although this is a bilateral issue, it has become a European problem. Therefore, the Commission took the initiative to offer European facilitation to solve the border issue and allow Croatia's accession negotiations to continue, assuming that both sides would find such facilitation useful.

This was the message I brought to Ljubljana and Zagreb in January. I have since then been discussing the terms of such facilitation with both Foreign Ministers, most recently in a trilateral meeting yesterday evening.

I welcome the endorsement in principle of both countries on such European facilitation, which would be provided by a Senior Expert Group chaired by President Martti Ahtisaari. During our talks yesterday we explored the possibilities to agree on the specific terms of facilitation. We agreed to continue the talks in the near future. This is still work in progress.

Let me point out that in its efforts the Commission leans on the negotiating framework, which is the foundation of the EU accession process of Croatia, agreed by Croatia and all EU member states, including Slovenia.

By adopting the negotiating framework, both Croatia and Slovenia accepted to resolve any border dispute in conformity with the principle of peaceful settlement of disputes in accordance with the United Nations Charter.

The UN Charter states "the parties to any dispute shall seek a solution either by negotiation, enquiry, mediation, conciliation, arbitration, judicial settlement, resort to regional agencies or arrangements, or other peaceful means of their own choice".

There are two equally important conclusions of this: First, the parties can choose any one of these methods, and the Commission's initiative is without doubt among them. Second, whatever method of these in the UN Charter they agree to choose, they have to agree between the two of them. I sincerely would want to see this happen, rather sooner than later.

The Commission's aim is indeed to facilitate the solving of the border issue and in parallel unblocking the EU accession negotiations of Croatia, so that Croatia could be able to meet its target timeline of concluding the technical negotiations by the end of this year 2009.

Croatia needs to do more in a number of key areas such as judicial and administrative reform, the fight against corruption and organised crime. New laws have been passed and structures set up. What counts ultimately, is implementation on the ground. Another issue which threatens to affect negotiations concerns cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY). We urge Croatia to do everything in its power to provide Mr Brammertz with the documents he is seeking.

Notwithstanding the current difficulties with Slovenia, which will hopefully soon be overcome, Croatia should continue to focus on the real substance of the negotiations, carry on working, take the necessary, even if sometimes difficult, decisions and pursue reforms with determination.

President, Honourable Members,

I welcome Ms Oomen-Ruijen's well-balanced resolution on Turkey.

Ten negotiating chapters have been opened with Turkey so far, and one is closed. I hope the Council can make further progress this year to open and close chapters, provided that Ankara adopts the necessary reforms in key areas. This is first and foremost a task for Turkey itself, but progress in the negotiations also depends, for some chapters, on EU Member States.

We have witnessed a certain slow-down of political reforms in Turkey in recent years.

However, since the beginning of 2009, there have been several positive developments, such as the launch of a new television channel broadcasting in Kurdish and the establishment of a Parliamentary Committee on gender equality.

The new "National Programme on the Adoption of the Acquis" and the appointment of a new full-time negotiator are also a very positive step forward.

I am also encouraged by the fact that PM Erdogan and the leader of the main opposition party Deniz Baykal signalled their commitment to the EU accession process during their recent visits to Brussels. I hope these developments will result in a strong political and societal consensus to pursue EU reforms with renewed vigour and energy.

An open and transparent relation between the press and public authorities is elementary for the quality of the democratic debate in any country. This is particularly true for a country like Turkey, which is going through a difficult process of transformation and reforms. The Commission is therefore very closely following the ensured existence of press freedom in Turkey.

It should be genuinely respected, as it is the very foundation of any open society and thus of continued democratic transformation of Turkey.

One word on Cyprus. There is a unique chance this year to reunite the island and bring to an end this long-standing conflict on European soil. It is important that Turkey continues proactively to support the ongoing settlement talks between the two leaders in Cyprus.

I believe that the Resolution prepared by Ms Oomen Ruijten will add to the healthy democratic debate and political dialogue between Europe and Turkey. We share the same goal to assist Turkey in becoming a modern and prosperous democracy that is part of Europe.

President, Honourable Members

Regarding the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, I thank Mr Erik Meijer and the shadow rapporteurs for a well-balanced resolution.

I share their regret that, three years after the country achieved candidate status, accession negotiations have not yet started.

The key outstanding condition is the ability to meet international standards for the conduct of free and fair elections. This is a core requirement to comply with the Copenhagen political criteria. The presidential and municipal elections in March and April will be a moment of truth.

I share the positive assessment in the Resolution on the progress made by Skopje in implementing the roadmap towards visa liberalisation. The Commission remains committed to make a proposal to the Council on visa liberalisation in 2009, once the conditions have been met.

President, Honourable Members,

In sum, we continue our work of gradual, managed accession for our three candidate countries despite the challenging economic times. I trust the European Parliament will also continue to support this common goal.