Countries aspiring for EU membership to be allowed on every next stage of accession only if they have implemented all the conditions from the previous stage, is said in a draft report of the foreign affairs committee in the European Parliament, drafted by the Greek MEP from the group of socialists and democrats Maria Eleni Koppa. According to the document, which will enter the plenary in the autumn, the EU still has power of attraction but the criteria for accession have to be reassessed 20 years after the Copenhagen summit when they were formulated. The experience with the previous stages of enlargement, especially in terms of the former communist block, as well as the current economic problems, have been reflected in one way or another in the draft of the Greek MEP and in the numerous proposals for amendments as well.
For example, the draft points out that the enlargement process does not end with the transposition of EU legislation and that the current member states should also be assessed concerning the "ongoing adherence on their part of the fundamental EU values and the implementation of commitments, related to the functioning of the democratic institutions and the rule of law". In this sense, the draft calls on the Commission to develop a detailed proposal for a monitoring mechanism. In their proposals for amendments, some MEPs go even farther, obviously because of the problems with democratism, demonstrated recently by Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria.
MEPs Kinga Göncz and Ana Gomes, from the group of socialists and democrats (respectively from Hungary and Portugal), propose the mandate of the European Agency for Fundamental Rights (AFR) to be extended to cover with regular monitoring the state of democracy even after accession. According to the two MEPs, for the countries where AFR finds serious breaches of democracy and rule of law, must be activated a mechanism similar to the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM) with which Bulgaria and Romania were adopted in the EU in 2007 because of unfinished reforms in the judiciary.
With proposals of her own for amendments to the draft report is Bulgarian MEP Nadezhda Neynsky, former foreign minister of Bulgaria and member of the EPP group in the European Parliament. She focuses especially on the EU enlargement toward the Western Balkans. In an interview for euinside, she commented that the lack of trust among the member states, especially in the context of reforms of Schengen, are the reason the Commission to be asked to impose monitoring mechanisms. She, however, is sceptic that this would deliver. Moreover, in the words of Ms Neynsky, the EU still does not possess the moral right and powers to create such regular mechanisms. The experience with Bulgaria and Romania and with the regular monitoring mechanism on them shows that the Commission criticises but the government in Bulgaria ignores the proposals and recommendations, the MEP added.
Full text of the interview with Nadezhda Neynsky, who submitted written answers because of her occupation with the internal elections in her home party Union of the Democratic Forces (UDF)
euinside: This report on enlargement is extremely timely and reflects many of the problems the EU faces. There are several interesting proposals in it and one of them is the Commission to come up with a monitoring mechanism and assessment of the current member states of the Union. What specifically has triggered this demand by the European Parliament (EP)? Are there certain countries and do you think it is possible this to be realised in a foreseeable future?
Nadezhda Neynsky: This proposal of the European Parliament is provoked mainly by the current euro crisis, as well as by Schengen. In the past years it became clear that many of the problems in Greece, for instance, are result of wrongly filed statistical information or, more precisely, of altered statistical information, obviously under political pressure, in order to present the country in a better light before Brussels. Such a behaviour, however, is contradictory to the idea of trust which is the foundation of the EU - the member states have to have trust in each other, to be honest with each other for the unification to function effectively and successfully. The political pressure, corruption, tax evasion, alternation of information filed to the European Commission, are not the types of behaviour that would be tolerated.
This circumvention of EU values, this ignoring of the fundamental ideals of the Union, ideals that we promote all over the world through our foreign policy, has provoked the EP to ask the Commission to create a monitoring mechanism for all member states. You see that the lack of confidence has an impact on the negotiations on the new Schengen legislation as well - the temporary reinstating of borders could contain a certain dose of populism but it is also a demonstration of distrust in the abilities of other countries to protect the European borders. But again, although the idea of a monitoring mechanism sounds interesting, I am not sure whether its implementation would bring the desired results. Here I am opening a huge bracket for Bulgaria, which was subjected to monitoring before becoming a member of the EU.
Let us not forget that the evolution of the idea for monitoring in the economic area - be it through the European Semester or the requirements for certain macro economic indicators - was caused by the systemic character of the economic crisis. In other words, if in the economic area the Europeans are strongly interconnected and the consequences of local violations could have impact all over Europe, the violations of the national or domestic type are more or less isolated within the national borders. From this point of view, the EU still has no moral right or powers to create such regular mechanisms. Not to mention that this brings additional administration and superfluous costs through such a mechanism.
Also, every violation of the fundamental European principles gives rise to some economic consequences, so indirectly the EU could catch potential deviations in the member states. In this regard, I am more inclined to accept the current situation of a reactionary movement of the EU when problems are detected in a certain country. At least because even if the Commission pointed out the problems in a nation their solution would depend on the government of that nation and its political will. A government that from the very beginning quells the European values will not change only because Brussels says so. I think that a small dose of idealism in politics is necessary for progress and changes, but the real reforms and sticking to EU values will be implemented only when the EU leaders are mature for this. Of course, the EU has special leverage for "maturing" and exercising influence, like freezing of funding or why not freezing of membership.
euinside: To the proposed text there is a proposal for addition by two MEPs, calling on the Commission to activate a mechanism, similar to that with which Bulgaria and Romania joined the EU in 2007. Do you think this is a good idea? Against the backdrop of the five-year summary report of the Commission, what is your opinion about the work of the mechanism - is it effective?
Nadezhda Neynsky: What did the experience with Bulgaria and Romania show - the Commission says something, criticises, gives pieces of advice, points to the infected areas; and in Bulgaria the government says another thing, presents the reports under the monitoring mechanism through its own prism, ignores the recommendations and demands of the Commission, does not implement reforms or implements them in quite a doubtful way and always in the very last possible moment. Regretfully, scandals, like the discharge of Judge Miroslava Todorova, are more than the positive results. Suppression of the democratic values in Romania, we are witnessing in the past weeks, is happening despite the monitoring mechanism. In other words, if governments to not have political will for reforms and adherence to European legislation, that very same legislation they have created, the monitoring mechanism will not succeed.
euinside: The EP thinks that it is high time for an overall assessment of the accession criteria. Do you agree with this and in what direction do you think these criteria should change?
Nadezhda Neynsky: The unchanged for the last 20 years Copenhagen criteria are universal and will never lose their prescription because they support the development of principles that are in the foundation of democracy and economic well-being. But still, times are changing and it is a good thing the countries that want to join the EU to prepare for the new rules of the Union. For example, more attention is now being paid to fiscal discipline because the stability of public finances brings stability to the country as an institution, thus ensuring stability for democracy and democratic values. We all saw how the problems in Greece brought to Parliament extreme parties, including neo-nazis. In this context I think that the accession criteria can and should be supplemented by criteria for fiscal discipline and why not with most of the Maastricht criteria for eurozone accession.
euinside: If such a change is agreed, should it be applied on the move by the candidate countries at the moment?
Nadezhda Neynsky: I think so. Such a change should be applied on the go on the candidate countries at the moment but let's be careful. The Union which these new countries will one day join is not the Union of 5 or 10 years ago. Today it is not that attractive as it was 5 or 8 years ago when the economic boom was in its peak. It becomes clear that to be part of a Union also means taking various responsibilities, even to be subjected to surveillance how you spend your budget. More importantly, the candidate countries should be prepared to accept their obligations and the requirements they will have to adhere to.
I think that the problem is not a technical one. Maybe you remember that during my time as a foreign minister we not only started the negotiations but we also closed most of the pre-accession chapters. I would definitely say that according to the existing (and the then) requirements and criteria we were ready for EU membership. But Bulgaria proved unprepared most of all because of the lack of political will for reforms in the governments that followed and their incapability to identify and champion in an adequate way the Bulgarian national interests. The other problem is that the accession negotiations represent only a part of the reality to be a full fledged EU member. The candidate countries must be ready to be full fledged members and not to ask for additional time. Of course, they cannot get prepared in 100% but there are so many areas where reforms can take place even before membership.
This would facilitate as the candidates so the Union. Fiscal policy, for me, is such an area, although for now there is no serious problem with either of the candidates (excluding Iceland). In this way, there will be no shock from accession which is usually registered in all the new member states. Let us not forget one thing - although I don't like this division of old and new member states of the EU - after all we have started from different starting points and the road to the EU for us was much more painful than for the old member states. And the countries from the Western Balkans, with their stormy history in the 1990s, have still a lot to learn about the rules within the Union.
The place to point the criteria for evaluation of progress on the EU pre-accession assistance is the regulation of pre-accession assistance. Weeks ago the EP endorsed a position on the Commission proposal for the next financial framework for the period 2014-2020. I am happy that in this position of the EP my proposal was included too among the requirements for evaluation of progress of candidates. The position of the Council is even stronger - they speak of fiscal governance. In September begin the negotiations between the Parliament and the Council on the final version of this regulation, which will actually determine how the pre-accession funds will be allocated in the next 7 years and I am sure that fiscal discipline will be among the requirements that the candidates will have to cover. This will be only for their good.
euinside: From your proposals for amendments I judge that you very much hold on to the process of accession for the Western Balkan countries. Why?
Nadezhda Neynsky: I think that as a direct witness of the events from those years, as well as a participant in taking tough decisions, I know very well the region. From this point of view, the accession of the Western Balkans is an inseverable part of the completion of the political project for a peaceful and united Europe. This will bring stability, prosperity, long-lasting peace and social development in these countries. It will make their peoples more open; it will allow them to overcome the wounds from the past; it will help them reach prosperity. Their well-being will bring positive development in Bulgaria as well, because the contacts will increase and the economic ties with our neighbours. Ten years ago the EU made a commitment to the Western Balkan countries and it is only a matter of time this commitment to be kept.
euinside: You explicitly insist Kosovo to be mentioned in paragraph 13. Why?
Nadezhda Neynsky: For me Kosovo has always been a very important point in the context of Western Balkans' security. The launch of the dialogue with Kosovo, which I mention in my amendment, is key. This dialogue allows the country to enhance its cooperation with the EU and to have a maximum benefit from the Union's assistance and support. The idea is reforms to be accelerated and to assist the development of this young state, especially given its forthcoming full administrative independence and the removal of international surveillance and control over its future. These are important steps which have to be supported by the union with real actions. Unfortunately, there are still five member states that do not recognise Kosovo, as well as the ongoing dispute with Serbia. Precisely for these reasons the dialogue is of utmost importance.
euinside: Do you fear that with the new president of Serbia it is possible the region to go back?
Nadezhda Neynsky: I hope not but the first indications are not very encouraging. I hope that populism will be defeated by pragmatism and by logic. After all it is early to say what exactly will the governance of the new president be because, apart from words, we don't have many actions from his side. If Serbia goes back, this will be devastating for its development and will have negative consequences for the rest of the Western Balkan countries. Serbia needs fresh financial capital, which can be secured through the pre-accession funds. Interesting infrastructure projects lie ahead of it, in which not only the EU takes part but also various financial institutions with special interest in the stability of the Western Balkans.
The Bulgarian experience shows that the inertia of financial assistance pulls some parallel irreversible institutional and political processes, but to what extent would they be effective will depend on the future economic situation in the Union and the development of the political processes in the region. More specifically, I have in mind Hungary and Romania, which bent over their understandings of democratism, creating a dangerous precedent the availability of qualified parliamentary majority to change traction and irreversibility of the democratic process. There is the impression that even inside the EU you can twist the Europeans on your little finger.
euinside: Do you see any risks for the enlargement process during the Cypriot Presidency?
Nadezhda Neynsky: Enlargement was pointed out by the Cypriot Presidency as one of its main priories. On the 1st of July 2013 Croatia will become the 28th full fledged member of the EU. Montenegro will begin negotiations, Serbia will use more financial assistance from the EU because it already has a candidate country status. There is an enhanced dialogue with Kosovo and Macedonia which will continue. So, regarding the future of the Western Balkans, I don't see any problems, at least concerning the implementation of EU commitments. On the contrary, I even think that Cyprus has a lot to offer as knowledge and experience in the enlargement process. For Iceland, which we often forget it also is in negotiations, I don't see problem as well. There could be a risk only regarding Turkey because of Turkey's firm refusal to cooperate with Cyprus. I think that Turkey will be the loser from this because mutual respect, that has to be in the foundation of the negotiations process, is also in the foundation of the relations and links among the member states.