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Important points 1994-1999

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No enlargement without satisfactory reform of EU politics

Parliament is convinced that enlargement is crucial for strengthening the EU and guaranteeing stability throughout Europe. However, it also believes expansion can only be a success if the institutional set-up is radically overhauled and the current review of EU policies is carried out in a balanced manner.

Enlargement: each country on its merits

When the negotiations are finally completed, Parliament will have to decide, under the assent procedure, whether to approve the new accessions. This will require 314 votes in favour, i.e. a majority of MEPs. There can be no enlargement unless Parliament agrees. This is an important power, justifying its involvement in all the negotiation proceedings. Hence the significance of the gentlemen's agreement with the Commission and Council under which Parliament is constantly updated on the negotiations with each applicant country: all documents submitted by the EU to the negotiation conferences are also forwarded to Parliament.

Since 1989 Parliament has played an active role towards the countries of central and eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. It supported democratic movements in those countries from the outset and has followed this up with efforts to strengthen the rule of law and democracy. It has used its position as joint budgetary authority with the Council to make a major political and financial contribution, e.g. by sending observers to monitor elections and giving financial support to pro- democracy movements. To forge closer links with the central and east European parliaments, the EP decided in 1995 to organise regular meetings with them.

Parliament believes these countries should all be treated on an equal footing and has therefore criticised the arrangement (known as "5 plus 1") proposed by the Commission, which wants to start negotiations initially with only Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Estonia and Cyprus. This de facto division of the applicant countries into two categories is causing concern and disappointment among those not in the first wave - the very ones most in need of reform, modernisation and investment. Parliament therefore decided in December 1997 to support the "regatta" model, by which all applicant countries which meet the Copenhagen political and economic criteria would be in the same starting line-up for the enlargement process. However, it acknowledged that the pace of negotiations would vary from country to country. Ultimately, each applicant must be judged on its merits.

The Luxembourg European Council (December 1997) broadly shared Parliament's view. It too called for a global, progressive approach which would encompass all the applicants but be conducted at a pace appropriate to each country's state of readiness. It also decided to hold a European Conference involving all eligible countries - including Turkey (which, however, refused to take part) - to look at matters of general interest and thus improve cooperation on foreign and security policy, justice and home affairs, economic affairs and regional issues.

Agenda 2000 reforms beneficial to all

9807-02.gif (49438 bytes)The enlargement debate is directly linked to the talks on Agenda 2000, a huge challenge which the Union must surmount if it is to consolidate its policies and make a success of expansion. Parliament has been involved in this process throughout the last year via an ongoing dialogue with the Commission and Council.

Firstly, in connection with the "pre-accession strategy", it has insisted that applicant countries must adopt the acquis communautaire (the body of existing Union laws and regulations) but also that the EU must help them to do so, subject to certain conditions (the different forms of aid must be coordinated and clarified and their implementation must be governed by transparent policies). It has also been involved in reform of the common agricultural policy (CAP), Structural Funds, Cohesion Fund and Transeuropean Networks as well as negotiations on the next Financial Perspective (2000- 2006). On 18 November 1998 Parliament announced in Strasbourg that it would broadly endorse the reforms proposed by the Commission provided they contributed to the cohesion of the Fifteen while also smoothing the path for accession by the applicant countries.

This issue will run throughout 1999. The deadlines are tight and the stakes extremely high. In the run-up to the European elections on 10 and 13 June, Parliament is looking to the Member States not only to reach agreement among themselves, but also to listen to what MEPs have to say.

In November 1998 Parliament debated a number of reports grouped under three headings: (1) the Pre-accession Strategy; (2) the Structural Funds, Cohesion Fund and Transeuropean Networks (TENs); (3) the CAP, the European Agricultural Guarantee and Guidance Fund (EAGGF) and Fisheries. The pre-accession reports were all referred back to committee as a means of pressuring the Council to negotiate; the Council cannot take a formal decision until it has received Parliament's opinion. The reports on the Funds and the TENs were adopted and are at the first stage of the procedure; Parliament's approval under the assent procedure will eventually be needed for the general regulation on the Structural and Cohesion Funds, while in the case of the European Regional Development Fund, the European Social Fund and the Transeuropean Networks the cooperation procedure currently applies but will be replaced by the codecision procedure once the Amsterdam Treaty enters into force.

As regards agriculture, on 28 January 1999 Parliament decided its position on several reports which it also referred back to committee to keep pressure on the Council, just as it did for the negotiations on other aspects of Agenda 2000. Following a lively vote, Parliament did not rule out the possibility of "co-financing" of the CAP (by which Member States would pay a share of agricultural spending themselves). However, it believes this must not affect certain principles of the CAP such as its contribution to the economic and social development of rural regions. As part of this aim of ensuring stability, Parliament is proposing that any budget funds from the EAGGF Guarantee Section which have not been spent during the financial year should be put in a special reserve of the EU's agriculture budget. Similarly, Parliament did not reject the idea of price reductions but it did challenge the scale of the cuts proposed by the Commission. If the outcome is to be a high level of direct income support, Parliament wants it to be conditional upon observance of environmental standards, animal welfare and "sound agricultural practice".

The total amount of the 1999 EU budget is EUR 96 928 million in payment appropriations and EUR 85 557 million in commitment appropriations. The main headings are: CAP: 40 440m; Structural Actions: 30 450m; Internal Policies: 5 021m; External Action: 3 952m; Administrative Expenditure: 4 502m; Reserves: 1 192m.

Further information: Jacques NANCY (tel. 0032-2-284 2485, e-mail jnancy@europarl.eu.int)

 

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