Hans van den Broek, European Commissioner in charge of enlargement negotiations,
argues that EU membership for the Baltic states is a question of when, not if
How realistic are the Baltic states' hopes of eventual EU
These hopes are perfectly realistic. All three Baltic
states submitted their requests for full membership of the EU in 1995 and since
then have played a full part in the EU's pre-accession strategy. That strategy
paves the way to accession by the candidate countries of central and eastern
Europe, including the Baltic states. Within that strategy, a contractual
relationship with all the candidate countries has been established through these
countries' association agreements with the EU. Furthermore, specific economic and
technical assistance is being provided through the Phare programme, while the
Union has also launched a structured dialogue with the candidate countries to
discuss issues of mutual interest in a wide-ranging number of areas.
The question therefore is not whether the Baltic states will join the Union, but
when and under which circumstances.
What are the key criteria that these states must meet before membership
becomes a real possibility?
The EU, at the Summit of heads of state and government in Copenhagen in July
1993, set out clearly the conditions for membership of the Union: 'Accession (by
the associated countries of central and eastern Europe) will take place as soon
as an associated country is able to assume the obligations of membership by
satisfying the economic and political conditions required.' The heads of state
and government also stipulated that 'membership requires that the candidate
country has achieved stability of institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule
of law, human rights and respect for and protection of minorities.' Furthermore,
it was said that eligible countries should have a 'functioning market economy as
well as the capacity to cope with competitive pressure and market forces within
In due time, after the conclusion of the Intergovernmental Conference (IGC) which
aims to adapt the existing structures and procedures of the EU with a view to
improving its efficiency, transparency and democratic accountability, the
European Commission will submit detailed opinions setting out its assessment of
the state of play of the political and economic reform process in each of the
candidate countries, including the Baltic states. It is on that basis that
decisions will be taken as to how and with which candidate country negotiations
for membership will be started. The Union applies an identical approach towards
each of the candidate countries in central and eastern Europe.
Do you see possible EU membership for the Baltic states as primarily a
political or an economic issue?
Future EU membership of the Baltic states has far-reaching consequences in
political and economic terms. It is obvious that the countries concerned,
after having gone through a long period of lack of freedom and material
suffering, now aim at ensuring conditions for lasting peace, in which democracy
can be consolidated and the prosperity of the people increased. The successful
outcome of political and economic reform, be it in Tallinn, Prague or Sofia, will
not only be beneficial for the people there, but for those in the EU as well. For
the first time in history, there is a real chance to unify people all over
Europe. That is a challenge that we must rise to.
Military links under NATO have grown since the end of the Soviet Union,
prompting opposition from Russia. Is there a risk, particularly given the growth
of nationalism in Russia, that increased links between the EU and Baltic states
may prompt similar opposition from Moscow?
The Alliance has established new forms of contractual relationships with its
neighbours. Partnership for Peace agreements have been established with a whole
range of countries in Europe as well as in Asia. Through these agreements, the
potential has been created for wide-ranging forms of co-operation which, for
example, have been put into practice in relation to the IFOR presence in
Additional steps are envisaged including the accession of some of those European
countries to the Alliance. The Baltic countries could be part of that process as
well. However, such development has to be situated in a broader context, ie a
rapprochement of the Baltic states to the Alliance cannot be fully disconnected
from its implications for other states in the region, not least Russia.
As far as the EU is concerned, a partnership agreement has been established with
Russia, aiming at providing the basis for far-reaching co-operation in the
economic and political fields. There can be no question that the Union, or NATO,
would ignore the concerns of Russia with regard to its perception as to how
security and peace in Europe can be guaranteed.
Surely, no diktat can be accepted when the future shape of the EU or the Alliance
is at stake, but it is also true that parties are too interdependent to allow
them to proceed in opposite directions.
The EU is strengthening links with other nations, particularly in the
Mediterranean. Given that, for example, Cyprus and Malta look set for membership,
is there a risk that the Union may be expanding too far, too fast?
The perspective of a wider Union, maybe comprising in a decade from now more than
20 nations, can be taken for granted. The Union is committed to enlarging itself
by including the new democracies of eastern and central Europe, including the
Baltic states, but also towards Malta and Cyprus. However, at the same time the
EU must adapt its internal rules and structures to ensure efficient absorption
The deepening and widening of the EU should be considered as two sides of the
same coin. It is for that reason that it has been decided that no negotiation for
new membership of the Union can take place until the IGC, which has just started,
has ended. The European Council meeting in Florence confirmed this approach,
while stating, however, that the pre-accession strategy should be strengthened to
allow a timely start to the initial phase of the negotiation process with the
countries of central and eastern Europe.
Economic and Monetary Union is at present causing argument within the EU member
states. Given its own internal difficulties, is the EU ready for expansion on the
scale that you envisage?
There is no doubt that important steps need to be taken to confirm the objectives
which have been clearly spelled out, including the establishment of the monetary
union within the timetable planned. These are challenging tasks, but they cannot
represent an alibi for not accepting our responsibilities towards those around
us. As I said already, a number of important amendments have to be introduced
regarding the existing shape of the Union, but I am confident that we will
achieve those goals which will permit the Union to widen in accordance with the
needs and desires of those countries which aspire to become part of the European
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©Kensington Publications 1996