Tuesday, 8 March 2005
Dáil Eireann Debate
The question of the future enlargement of the Union is one which will feature prominently on the EU’s agenda for the foreseeable future. The Government has participated actively and positively in negotiations on the enlargement process and will continue to do so. Ireland will continue to give constructive support to the enlargement process on the basis that the European Union should continue to be open to all European states which respect its fundamental values.
With regard to Bulgaria and Romania, the European Council noted the formal closure of accession negotiations at the European Council on 16 and 17 December 2004. Both countries are due to sign an accession treaty on 25 April, on the occasion of the General Affairs and External Relations Council. From that day they will participate as active observers at most EU meetings. The accession of both countries to the European Union will take place in January 2007, if they are ready.
The Helsinki European Council in December 1999 decided that Turkey was a candidate for membership, destined to join the Union on the basis of the same criteria applied to the other candidate states. The December 2004 European Council agreed, on the basis of the Commission’s report and recommendation, that Turkey sufficiently fulfils the Copenhagen political criteria to enable the opening of accession negotiations. It requested the Commission to begin work on a proposal for a negotiating framework and to present it to the Council, with a view to the opening of accession negotiations on 3 October 2005. The clear objective of the negotiations will be Turkey’s accession to the Union, provided it meets the requirements for membership. The pace of the negotiations will depend in large part on progress in the implementation of Turkey’s wide-ranging reform programme. Given the substantial financial consequences of Turkish accession, the European Council agreed that it will not be possible to conclude negotiations until after the establishment of the financial framework for the period from 2014.
The European Union has offered the prospect of eventual membership to the countries of the western Balkans, on the basis of the implementation of a detailed reform process. Croatia applied for membership in February 2003. The June 2004 European Council decided, on the basis of the Commission’s opinion, that Croatia is a candidate country for membership and that the accession process should be launched. It decided to convene a bilateral inter-governmental conference with Croatia early in 2005 in order to begin accession negotiations. The December European Council confirmed this decision and invited the Commission to present to the Council a proposal for a framework for negotiations, with a view to opening the accession negotiations on 17 March 2005, provided there is full cooperation with the international criminal tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. The negotiations will be based on Croatia’s own merits and their pace will depend solely on Croatia’s progress in meeting the requirements for membership.
On 22 March 2004, the Taoiseach, in his capacity as President of the European Council, accepted the application for membership of the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia at a ceremony in Dublin. The General Affairs and External Relations Council in May requested the Commission to prepare its opinion on the application. I expect that the Commission will present its opinion for consideration by the Council later this year.
Those neighbouring countries that do not currently have the prospect of membership of the European Union are offered opportunities for closer economic integration and political cooperation with the European Union through the European neighbourhood policy. These opportunities are offered in return for concrete progress with political, economic and institutional reforms reflecting shared values.
In this way, it is expected that the European Union and its neighbours, whether or not they are pre-accession countries, will enjoy strengthened relations based on commitments to common values including democracy, respect for human rights and the principles of market economy, sustainable development, as well as poverty reduction.
As a European country, Ukraine has the right, under the Treaty on European Union, to apply for membership of the Union if it respects the principles of liberty, democracy, respect for fundamental freedoms and the rule of law. For the present, it makes sense for the Union to recognise Ukraine as a neighbour in Europe and to seek to develop relations through the action plan established under the European neighbourhood policy.
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