5th meeting, Prague, 5 May 2009
The European Union's communication policy on enlargement
Speaker: Mrs Anne-Marie SIGMUND, EESC (Various Interests Group)
1/ Legal bases underpinning enlargement policy
There are legal bases underlying all the European Union's public policies; these are provided by the founding treaties or by secondary legislation flowing from these treaties.
The first level of communication on enlargement entails sending out clear, precise information on the political and legal bases underpinningeachenlargement of the European Union.
To this end, several forms ofeducational information material have been made available - mainly brochures published by the Directorate-General on Enlargement, which can be consulted on-line - on the foundations, procedures and major issues of each enlargement.
The information brochure published by the European Commission's Enlargement Directorate, entitled "Understanding Enlargement - the European Union's Enlargement Policy" and available on-line, is a good example of documentation directed at the general public, which provides clear, comprehensive information on the processes involved.
Article 49 of the Treaty on the European Union:
"Any European State which respects the principles set out in Article 6(1) may apply to become a member of the Union. It shall address its application to the Council, which shall act unanimously after consulting the Commission and after receiving the assent of the European Parliament, which shall act by an absolute majority of its component members."
The aforementioned Article 6.1 describes the principles which have to be respected:
" The Union is founded on the principles of liberty, democracy, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and the rule of law, principles that are common to the Member States."
Complementing this legal basis, heads of state and government, meeting in the European Council, have often demonstrated the political will for successive enlargements by taking major political initiatives.
1993 Copenhagen European Summit: Adoption of the "Copenhagen Criteria"
- Political criteria: stableinstitutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights and respect for and protection of minorities.
- Economic criteria: a functioning market economy as well as the capacity to cope with competitive pressure in the Union's single market.
- Capacity criteria:
- the capacity to take on the obligations of membership, including adherence to the aims of political, economic and monetary union.
• the capacityto transpose all European Community legislation into national legislation and to ensure that that the legislation is implemented effectively through appropriate administrative and judicial structures.
• as for the European Union, the capacityto incorporate new members, having the right to decide on the moment it is ready for any new enlargement.
The "ThessalonikiAgenda", adopted at the summit of heads of state and government in Thessaloniki in June 2003, firmly reiterated the prospects of accession for all the countries of the Western Balkans.
2/ Communication with the political authorities and civil society organisations in the applicant countries
2.1Accession negotiations: continuous dialogue with the authorities in the applicant countries
Negotiations carried out country by country
Steadfast principle underlying accession negotiations with the applicant countries: the progress of each country is assessed individually, according the headway made in reforms.
Progress is evaluated every year by the European Commission in its "progress report", which examines chapter by chapter the reforms carried out and under way in each applicant country.
It is important for the governments of the applicant countries to keep the EU informed about the reforms it is carrying out, explaining the process of transporting the Communityacquisinto national legislation. The success of enlargement is partly dependent on it being supported by the public as a whole. It is therefore recommended that the social partners and organised civil society players be involved in the process of taking on the Community acquis. In this way enlargement can become a genuinely shared project.
Strategic planning for all the European Union's activities in the countries of the Western Balkans
A document setting out the Commission's enlargement strategy in the Western Balkans is updated every year.
This is a very comprehensive roadmap setting out all the European Union's actions in the Western Balkans. The working document allows the political authorities in the countries concerned, officials in these countries and all players involved in activities in the countries of the Western Balkans to be kept up to date on the details of the European Union's activities.
2.2Communication with the public in the applicant countries
In 2005 the European Commissionannounced its intention to encourage the development of civil society between the European Union and applicant countries, inter alia by funding conferences for the general public on enlargement and by increasing funding earmarked for bilateral exchanges under pre-accession aid programmes.
Programmes such as "People-2-People" and "Tempus" also help increase exchanges between civil societies in applicant countries and the European Union.
European Commission delegations in applicant countries and potential applicant countries have a key role to play in keeping the public informed about the various funding programmes. They help people in the applicant countries become familiar with the way the Union works.
Opening Euro-info Centres in the applicant countries has allowed the EU to pass on information to as wide a public as possible and answer people's questions about the European Union.
The European Economic and Social Committee also brings added value as a channel for communication and forum for boosting exchange between civil society in the Member States and those in applicant countries.
One of the tasks of the EESC, as a "bridge between Europe and civil society", is to extend that bridge to applicant countries. For the EESC, this means creating close ties with civil society in the applicant countries and promoting the development of their civil society structures. The creation of the Joint Consultative Committees, based on the stabilisation and association agreements signed with these countries, fits in perfectly with this role of helping develop structures in civil societies and bringing them closer together.
With a view to strengthening the links between civil society in the European Union and Croatia, a joint event could be organised under the TAIEX programme - "Technical Assistance and Information Exchange" - managed by DG Enlargement. This programme does in fact provide funding to support civil society organisations in applicant countries.
The Commission explains the enlargement process as a "win-win" situation for both parties in both political and economic terms,using studies to back up its argument.
Previous enlargements of the European Union have meant greater prosperity, democratisation and political stability in the new Member States. However, they have also been beneficial to the economies of the countries which are already members of the EU. The physical increase in the size of the European single market following enlargement has always led to more dynamic intra-Community trade in goods and services.
Politically speaking, the increase in the number of the EU's Member States, and thus in the size of its population, also gives its representatives greater clout on the international stage.
However, upstream in this process, it is the people of the applicant countries who must be persuaded of the benefits of enlargement; they are sometimes somewhat reticent about accession, since reforms are introduced fairly rapidly without the general public always understanding what is at stake. If enlargement is to be successful, there must be a sound communication policy to inform the public, both within the European Union and in the applicant countries.
This communication policy must be backed up by a desire on the part of the applicant countries' authorities to do more than just transpose the Community acquis. These authorities must also put structures in place for implementing the acquis properly. Civil society in the applicant countries has a key role to play here. It must also play a part in helping the public come to accept accession, by working to combat misgivings and sometimes even fears about the impact of accession.
"Understanding Enlargement - the European Union's Enlargement Policy", Enlargement Directorate-General, European Commission, 2007:
"EU regionally relevant activities in the Western Balkans 2008/09", Commission staff working paper, Brussels, 3 February 2009, SEC(2009)128 final :
European Commission press release, 29 June 2005, IP/05/805:"Commission initiates civil society dialogue on enlargement".
In June 2005, Olli Rehn declared:“We have to listen better to citizens. That is why the Commission is launching the civil society dialogue to engage with the EU’s citizens. We have to facilitate a deeper dialogue between the people of the EU Member States and the candidate countries."