Which country will join the EU next? Of the nine EU hopefuls, Croatia is likely to become the 28th member - accession negotiations may be concluded in the first half of 2011, Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Füle told the Foreign Affairs Committee on 9 Nov after the Commission released its enlargement report. Currently four countries have been accepted as candidates - the latest being Iceland, which opened negotiations this year - the others are potential candidates.
Croatia head of the queue
Croatia is expected to be the first to join the EU since the accession of Romania and Bulgaria in 2007. Füle told MEPs the current "theoretically possible date" for completing negotiations is the first half of 2011. After the successful conclusion of negotiations, the ratification process will start. This can be completed in one, possibly two years. “But the final leap is sometimes the most difficult,” the Commissioner added.
Socialist MEP Hannes Swoboda is Parliament's rapporteur on Croatia and is optimistic about their future: "Croatia could complete its negotiations during the next EU presidency" However, some more critical MEPs say that the EU should not mention any concrete date "otherwise can be problematic to restore its credibility" Alexander Lambsdorff (ALDE) remarked.
An issue that still needs to be tackled is Croatia's deficiencies in cooperation with International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY). "The problems with access to important documents remain. The special task force set up by the government needs to continue its work to locate missing artillery documents requested by ICTY Prosecutor" the EC report said.
Iceland: "The EU would gain one of the oldest democracies"
Iceland opened negotiations to join the EU in July 2010. "If Iceland became a member, the EU would gain one of the oldest democracies on the continent with well-functioning market economy," rapporteur on Iceland, Cristian Dan Preda (EPP) noted.
Iceland has high social protection standards and top education and research systems, through which it can contribute to the attainment of the Europe 2020 objectives. "Last but not least, Iceland would be the on, a region in which the EU wants to become more and more involved," Preda said.
He said Iceland is starting from a favourable position, as it is a member of the European Economic Area, which covers 10 out of 33 chapters candidate countries must meet to join the EU and partially covers another 18. However, the report says progress is needed in agriculture, rural development, fisheries, food safety and veterinary policy. Preda said the timing of Iceland's accession to the EU is largely dependent on the Icelanders themselves.
Turkey and The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM)
Replying to questions raised by José Salafranca (EPP) on Turkey, the Commissioner believed that "not many people can be satisfied with the current pace of negotiations” with Turkey. To “avoid losing momentum”, it is urgent that Turkey should implement in a non-discriminatory manner the additional protocol (on trade relations) to its association agreement with the EU, he added.
Mr Füle could not give any guarantee on opening further EU accession negotiating chapters in the near future, but said that “any progress would accelerate the process”. He also said he had been impressed by the openness and enthusiasm on both sides in Cyprus. Mr Füle confirmed that the Commission fully supports efforts under way to reach a settlement on the Cyprus issue.
Several MEPs underlined that Ankara should respect the freedom of expression.
The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia achieved candidate status in 2009, but no solution has been reached with Greece as yet about the name.
The other five countries meeting the criteria as potential EU candidates (first stage to perspective membership) are Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Serbia and Kosovo (its independence has been proclaimed under a UN Security Council Resolution and has not been recognized by all EU member states).
Croatia, Zagreb, pop 4,44 million
Iceland, Reykjavík, pop 0,32 m
The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, FYROM, Skopje, pop 2,04 m
Turkey, Ankara, pop 72,52 m
Albania, Tirana, pop 3,15 m
Bosnia and Herzegovina, Sarajevo, pop 3,84 m
Montenegro, Podgorica, 0,62 m
Serbia, Belgrade, pop 7,43 m
Kosovo, Priština, pop 2,07 m