EU expansion privileged partnership, not membership
The Germans are now mooting 'privileged partnership' rather than membership for the so-called Western Balkans, which includes Croatia. This could be something along the lines of what is discussed for Turkey and Ukraine. (see article below)
Both Germany and France are keen to work on internal EU matters rather than expansion, seeing expansion as secondary to ironing out the EU's problems.
The European Parliament is also questioning enlargement, with a report due this year about the EU's "absorption capacity" for new states. (see second article below)
Sorry to be banging this drum for nearly a decade, but it's about time the EU stops stringing Croatia along, and about time for Croatia to get serious about development regardless of EU membership.
Merkel moots 'privileged partnership' for Balkans
17.03.2006 - 13:49 CET | By Ekrem Krasniqi and Mark Beunderman
German chancellor Angela Merkel has suggested a "privileged partnership" for the western Balkan states as an option for closer ties with the EU, raising doubts over Berlin's commitment to full membership for the region.
Ms Merkel made her comments at a press conference after meeting Slovenian prime minister Janez Jansa in Berlin on Wednesday (15 March), DTT-NET.COM reports.
Asked whether the western Balkans' "European perspective" could also mean something less than full membership, she said "from my side I would like to say that we should not avoid the term â€˜privileged partnershipâ€™."
Ms Merkel's statement represents the first public statement by an EU leader of a loose partnership option for the region, an option that so far has only been mooted for states like Turkey and Ukraine.
It also came just days after member states struggled to find common wording for their aims towards the region after a meeting of foreign ministers last week.
In the end, the words "EU membership as ultimate goal" were only included after strong pressure from the Balkan states.
Ms Merkel said "I think the question of full membership should not be the next question at all, it is rather about political stabilisation, for which Europe should feel responsible."
"Political stabilisation can of course never mean 'never full membership', but (...) other steps are more important now," she added.
But although Ms Merkel did not rule out eventual full membership, her use of the term "privileged partnership" is likely to cause concern in Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Serbia and Montenegro and Kosovo.
The term has been frequently used by Ms Merkel and other politicians for Turkey and Ukraine as an alternative to full accession.
For it part, the European Commission is urging member states to stay true to their Balkan commitments. EU enlargement commissioner Olli Rehn urged member states not to "go wobbly" on the goal of full EU membership for western Balkan states, just as the region enters a difficult period of talks on Kosovoâ€™s future status.
EU leaders promised western Balkan countries that they "will become an integral part of the EU, once they meet the established criteria" at a meeting in Thessaloniki in 2003.
Berlin and Paris: deepening first
However, Germany has now joined France in saying that the union should first sort out its internal institutional problems before expanding further.
Ms Merkel said that "without a constitutional treaty, in which institutional reforms are also anchored, enlargement of the European Union is hardly imaginable."
The remark echoes similar statements from Paris.
Dominique de Villepin, the French prime minister, said in January that "Europe has no vocation to enlarge indefinitely."
"A balance has to be found between widening and deepening and now the priority lies with deepening," the French politician stated.
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MEPs set to issue warning over EU enlargement
15.03.2006 - 10:16 CET | By Teresa KÃ¼chler
MEPs in Strasbourg are set to adopt a report criticising the limitless expansion of the European Union and urging member states to take the EU's absorption capacity fully into account before taking on more countries.
A report by German Conservative MEP Elmar Brok, to be debated in Strasbourg plenary session on Wednesday (15 March), urges the commission to meet with the "legitimate concerns of the European public regarding European enlargement and integration"
The commission should submit a report by the end of this year setting out the principles defining the EU's absorption capacity, the report states.
The report is a parliament response to a commission enlargement strategy paper from last year, and it is expected to be adopted by MEPs in Strasbourg.
Mr Brok writes that "the stalemate in the ratification of the European constitution is preventing the EU from enhancing its absorption capacity", and reminds that EU member states must, before taking a final decision on new countries joining the union, ensure that adequate budgetary resources are available to allow the proper financing of the Union's policies in these countries.
If necessary, the commission should propose an alternative close relationship to all European countries which currently have no recognised "membership perspective"- a clear signal to Ukraine, notes Le Figaro.
Mr Brok also urges the EU to take into account the aspiring new member stateâ€™s ability to protect their minorities, saying an UN special envoy has described inter-ethnic relations in Kosovo, especially with regard to Serbs and Roma, as "grim".
While EU foreign ministers at a meeting in the Austrian city of Salzburg over the weekend underlined that the Balkan countries were destined to enter the EU, the parliament warns member states of making promises they cannot keep.
In an annex of the report, German Socialist MEPs Klaus Hansch and Bernhard Rapkoy, estimate that it is "impossible" to integrate the former Yugoslavian states as long as there are EU soldiers stationed there.
As for Turkey, the report welcomes the country's recent decision not to prosecute Turkish author Orhan Pamuk, but denounces the further prosecution of others for the non-violent expression of their opinion.
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