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#EuropeanCouncil: Closing the Balkan Route - or not?

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balkan route

Another European Council meeting (EU summit) has started in Brussels today (7 March), hosting the heads of states or governments of all 28 member states of the European Union. This time, a non-EU-member is in attendance too: Turkey, represented by Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu. The reason for having a ‘guest’ attending this European Council is simple: the EU needs Turkey’s help in finding solutions to the current refugee crisis, writes Judith Mischke.

One of the most debated topics for this summit will be whether or not to close the Balkan Route, through which thousands of refugees can reach Europe. Most parts of it have already been closed, and these closures have lead to huge disagreements in the Union. Turkey’s role is not to be underestimated in this debate, as Turkey is the gateway for many refugees to reach the EU. However, as Turkey is also aiming to join the EU at some point, it has understood its importance in this crisis.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said in Brussels: “We will help Turkey, but in exchange we will demand that we can return the people coming from there to the European Union.”

Most representatives arrived in Brussels around noon, including Angela Merkel (Germany), Werner Faymann (Austria), Boyko Borissov (Bulgaria), Dalia Grybauskaitė (Lithuania) and David Cameron (UK).

Angela Merkel strongly emphasized not closing the Balkan Route and received back-up from Commission President Jean Claude Juncker. As most heads of states or governments are currently striving for a closed Balkan route, Merkel is expecting “difficult negotiations here in Brussels”. Opposing closed boarders puts her in a difficult position, as she may be one of the very few who does not sign the draft summit deal.

David Cameron said he and the UK would help the “continent in securing its outside borders” but he also added that Britain would need its own controls, as Britain is not part of the Schengen area.

Belgian’s Prime Minister Charles Michel supported the need for secured Schengen boarders and said: “There is only one possible solution and that is to completely close the Schengen area’s borders to illegal, uncontrolled migration.”

Austrian’s Chancellor Werner Faymann said in Brussels that in his opinion a solution without Turkey would also be possible. A deal on solving the crisis “should also be reached without help from the neighbour”, which is Turkey.

The outcome of this summit’s negotiations is expected for today’s late afternoon or early evening.

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Accession talks with #Albania and #NorthMacedonia sharpens focus on EU solidarity

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Whilst public policy news continues to be dominated by the social and economic effects of the Chinese Covid 19 virus – the Council has found time to make great progress  in respect of the enlargement of the EU to embrace the countries of Albania and North Macedonia – writes Dr. Vladimir Krulj

EU Member states agreed earlier this week to give the green light to open EU accession talks with Northern Macedonia and Albania. The way they did it was also exceptional, by written procedure having regard to the present health situation affecting Europe and the rest of the world.

It is interesting to note that Northern Macedonia started discussions with EU before Croatia did. However complications with the dispute with Greece over the country’s name caused endless delays, until finally an unprecedented move in 2018 by the then Prime Minister to change the country’s name opened the door for progress with talks.

In the case of Albania there were difficulties with the rule of law, anti-corruption efforts, criminality, freedom speech and protection of human rights which led Denmark and the Netherlands to block the opening of accession talks last November – against the recommendations of the European Commission.

On the other hand Croatia did its best to lobby for those two countries to open negotiations with the EU. This was important not only for the Euroatlantic movement now spreading among the majority of the countries in the region but also to counter the influence from Russia, China and Turkey.

It is extremely important and encouraging to see how other neighbouring countries from the Region, Serbia and Montenegro who are already candidate countries supported the efforts of Croatia and other EU countries to open accession talks with Northern Macedonia and Albania.

President Aleksandar Vučić of Serbia and Prime Minister Edi Rama of Albania have already held discussions about the idea of a “mini Schengen” which will enable an easier exchange of goods, people, services and capital, hence making the economy and everyday living of the people from the region easer. Despite being heavily criticised by some analysts this initiative at least also demonstrates the good intention to put bad memories from the past firmly behind them and to look to the future of constructive regional cooperation.

It is imperative that all societies in candidate countries for EU membership truly embrace the core values of the EU. But the challenge this presents should not be underestimated. The situation regarding the rule of law, freedom of the press, respect for human rights and civil liberties today presents serious obstacles to the majority if not all candidate countries on their path towards the EU.

On the other hand, it is fair to say that for the EU it seems that acceptance of core values represents just one side of the problem. Another more challenging part of the equation is how to embed those values in society and maintain respect for them.

Examples of how democratic institutions operate today in Hungary, Poland and to a certain extent even in Croatia is, rather worrying if not to say deplorable. It seems that the EU must focus on strengthening the role of democratic institutions and implement mechanisms to remove obstacles to their efficient operation.

One may think that President Macron referred to this point in particular when he was addressing the future of the EU. Today more than ever the key issue is solidarity. Giving Northern Macedonia and Albania the chance to open EU accession talks offers a promising new starting point.

The author, Dr. Vladimir Krulj, is an Economic Fellow at the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), London.

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Majority of people in non-eurozone member states say #Euro is good for economy

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A majority of respondents in the EU member states that have yet to adopt the euro thinks that the common currency has had a positive impact on those countries that already use it, the latest Flash Eurobarometer shows.

In total, 56% of respondents across the seven member states (Bulgaria, Croatia, Czechia, Hungary, Poland, Romania and Sweden) share this view, up one percentage point over the past year and up a total of four percentage points since 2016.

This view is strongest in Hungary (70%), Romania (62%), Poland (54%) and Bulgaria (53%). Almost half also believe that introducing the euro would have positive consequences for their own country (45%, -1) and for them personally (47%, no change).

In total, 55% would like the euro to become their currency as soon as possible or after some time (+2), vs. 42% who would prefer this to take place as late as possible or never (-2). A majority of respondents in Hungary (66%), Romania (61%) and Croatia (49%) are in favour of introducing the euro.

77% of the population in these seven member states has already used euro banknotes or coins (+1 percentage point since last year). 49% feel well informed about the single currency (+1) and 81% think that they would personally manage to adapt to the replacement of the national currency by the euro (+2).

A Standard Eurobarometer released in December 2018 shows that 75% of the population in the euro area are now in favour of the euro, the highest level since the introduction of the single currency. This Flash Eurobarometer was conducted in the seven eurozone ember states that are legally committed to adopting the euro: Bulgaria, Czechia, Croatia, Hungary, Poland, Romania and Sweden.

The Flash Eurobaromemter is available here.

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Parliament wants to suspend EU accession negotiations with #Turkey

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Following years of severe political and democratic backsliding, the European Parliament has recommended suspending EU accession negotiations with Turkey.

The European Parliament remains seriously concerned about Turkey’s poor track record in upholding human rights, the rule of law, media freedom and the fight against corruption, as well as its all-powerful presidential system.

In a resolution adopted last week by 370 votes in favour, 109 against with 143 abstentions, MEPs welcome Turkey’s decision, last year, to lift the state of emergency introduced after the failed coup attempt in 2016. However, they regret that many of the powers granted to the President and executive following the coup attempt remain in place, and continue to limit freedom and basic human rights in the country. MEPs express great concern about the shrinking space for civil society in the country, as a large number of activists, journalists and human rights defenders are currently in jail.

Taking into account the human rights situation and the new Turkish constitution, the European Parliament recommends that the current EU accession negotiations with Turkey be formally suspended.

Parliament stands behind Turkish citizens

Despite the serious situation, MEPs express their will to stand behind Turkish citizens, and keep the political and democratic dialogue open. EU funds must be made available - not via Ankara, but to Turkish civil society - for human rights defenders, students and journalists to promote and protect democratic values and principles.

Modernising the EU-Turkey Customs Union

MEPs believe that to keep Turkey economically anchored to the EU, the possibility to upgrade the 1995 EU-Turkey Customs Union to include, for example, agriculture and public procurement, must remain an option, but only if there are concrete improvements in the field of democracy, human rights, fundamental freedoms and the rule of law.

Visa liberalization

Further, MEPs encourage Turkey to fulfil all 72 benchmarks for EU visa liberalisation, to benefit Turkish citizens, particularly students, academics, business representatives and people with family ties in EU countries.

Turkey’s role in the migration crisis

Finally, regarding the war in Syria, the resolution recalls Turkey’s important role in responding to the migration crisis and the government’s efforts to grant refugees temporary protection. The EP takes the view that the country and its population have shown great hospitality by offering shelter to more than 3.5 million Syrian refugees, but at the same time urges them to respect the non-refoulement principle. Member states, on the other hand, need to keep their promises regarding large-scale resettlement.

Rapporteur Kati Piri (S&D, NL) said: “If the EU takes its own values seriously, no other conclusion is possible than to formally suspend the talks on EU integration. Our repeated calls to respect fundamental rights have fallen on deaf ears in Ankara. On top of the severe human rights violations, the dismantling of the rule of law and the fact that Turkey holds the world record for the number of journalists in jail, the recently amended constitution consolidates Erdoğan’s authoritarianism.”

“I realize that stopping the accession talks is not a step which will help Turkey’s democrats. For that, the EU leaders must use all possible tools to exert more pressure on the Turkish government. The Parliament, therefore, calls for dedicated funds to be made available to support civil society, journalists and human rights defenders in Turkey. In addition, modernizing the customs union must remain conditional on clear improvements in the field of human rights. And more efforts must be put into people-to-people exchange programmes.”

Background

The EU is Turkey’s largest trading partner, while two thirds of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in Turkey comes from EU member states. Negotiations on its EU accession started in 2005.

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