Eneko Landaburu


After the dust cleared in the early 1990s, the institutional framework for realizing the peaceful unification of Europe was laid down at the Copenhagen European Council in June 1993. The statement by the EU at Copenhagen that it was ready to accept new members that fulfill certain criteria led to applications from ten countries of Central and Eastern Europe. As laid down in the Treaties, it fell to the Commission to provide advice on these applications to the Member States of the EU, which it did in July of 1997 in its ambitious program of reform, known as Agenda 2000. Agenda 2000 sought to look at the prospect of enlargement not as a simple addition to the existing EU, but as a process that would have an impact on the way in which it should be governed and funded at what was already a time of massive change. Agenda 2000 also took a close look at the future of the main EU policies, particularly those of agriculture and regional policy, which were already in a process of reform, and which would be strongly affected by the arrival of new members. Agenda 2000 was accompanied by a set of Opinions from the European Commission on the applications for membership that had been received by ten countries of Central and Eastern Europe that enjoyed association agreements with the EU. The Opinions were able to conclude that a number of the candidates were already in a position to begin negotiating their membership in the EU. However, the Commission was conscious of the need to avoid the appearance of new divisions in Europe, this time between those candidates whose recent progress in economic and political reform had brought them to the negotiating table, and those who had started from more difficult positions, such as Romania and Bulgaria, or who had, like Slovakia, not yet convinced the EU of their commitment to functioning democratic practices. The Commission therefore proposed an inclusive system, whereby we would revisit the progress made with the Copenhagen criteria every year, both for those who were not yet negotiating, and for those who were. The combination of strict application of the objective criteria and readiness to welcome progress along the way will result in a well-prepared enlargement of the EU. Now, in autumn 2002, the end of the road is in sight, at least for the best-prepared candidates. This essay outlines how the negotiations that began in 1998 have brought us to this point. They have been a test for all concerned, but a test that demonstrates clearly the ability of the EU to act in an area of decisive interest.