(THIS ARTICLE IS MACHINE TRANSLATED by Google from Norwegian)
On January 1, 2007, the EU will be recruiting new members for the first time since the huge incorporation of Central and Eastern European countries in 2004, when ten countries joined. Romania and Bulgaria are on tour now, while new countries are queuing for membership. The EU has introduced a temporary halt in the recruitment of new members. Potential member states do not yet meet all EU requirements and opposition to enlargement within the EU can be an equally significant obstacle.
Professor Janne Haaland Matlary believes the EU needs time to absorb the ten countries that joined in 2004. Matlary is working on issues related to EU enlargement, at the Institute of Political Science at the University of Oslo.
- The EU has expanded a lot in a short time, and there is great disagreement about Turkey's status as a candidate country. It is also necessary to have more effective decision-making procedures than those that exist now because the EU already has so many member states. The ministerial meetings are too large for decisions to be made there in any proper way, she says.
Problems with integrating the Central and Eastern European countries that joined recently have also made some of the old member countries skeptical of new enlargements.
- There is a lot of corruption and a lack of democratic maturity in these countries, and once they are in, they do pretty much what they want. The impact of the EU on their inner lives becomes much less the moment they are addressed. We now see that there are major political problems in several of the new member states (from 1 January 2007. Editor's note), Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary, where most people are being exploited economically in a strong adaptation to the market economy and globalization, believes Matlary.
She points out that it is important for the Balkan countries to undergo a process of democratization before joining the EU.
- The EU has to keep the hope of membership up in the Balkan countries, it is the only thing that provides an incentive for further democratization there.
The research clearly shows that the EU can effect changes in the democratic direction most effectively while a country is a candidate country.
Turkey, Croatia and Macedonia are candidate countries, while Albania, Bosnia Herzegovina, Montenegro and Serbia have signed Stabilization and Association Agreements (SAAs) with the EU, which is considered a preparation for candidate status.
On November 8, the EU published a report on the status of potential member states. There is a big difference in how far the countries have come in meeting the requirements for membership. In particular, there are many obstacles in the way of Turkish membership, and Turkey may be bypassed by other countries that were initially further behind in line.
The candidate country of Macedonia is often forgotten when discussing EU enlargement. Nevertheless, the country has come a long way in a short time. In 2001, Macedonia was close to civil war, after the Albanian minority in the country revolted. 25 percent of Macedonia's people are Albanians.
When Macedonia starts negotiations on membership – optimists believe it can happen as early as next year – there are still problems that need to be solved. Unemployment is at 30 percent, and the country is among the most corrupt in Europe. Croatia, which is also a candidate country, has a shorter path.
- For Croatia, it was originally about 2008, but it will probably not be until 2009. One of the problems is the Serbian minority who were expelled from the country in the wake of the war. Obstacles were placed in the way of these being able to move back. Croatia has a border dispute with Slovenia, and also a disagreement with Italy about its economic zone at sea, says Svein Mønnesland, professor at the University of Oslo and expert in the Balkans.
The key country Serbia Serbia is the country most commonly mentioned in connection with the EU, probably because it is the country in Europe with the worst relationship with Western European
countries after NATO bombed the country in 1999. It is important for the EU to keep the door open for Serbia, to ensure a normalization of the situation.
- As long as Serbia does not cooperate with the court in The Hague, I see no possibility that they can start negotiations on membership, Mønnesland says.
Especially the fact that war criminals like Radko Mladic are not extradited to the court in The Hague is a problem.
- I think Serbia can quickly get on the EU track.
Serbia should have the prerequisites in terms of economy, social structure and even democracy. The Kosovo question is likely to be resolved. Serbia is a key country in the region and important for the EU to join, Mønnesland believes.
Kosovo is now under NATO control, but is expected to gain some form of independent status shortly. UN chief negotiator for Kosovo, Martti Artisaari, has said that Kosovo's status will be decided after the elections in Serbia on January 21. Kosovo politicians have announced that they will apply for membership immediately after they become independent.
Mønnesland believes it is far ahead that Kosovo can become a member, but envisages the possibility of a special agreement.
- It is not inconceivable that an independence will be conditional on EU control similar to Bosnia, he says.
- I do not think Albania is ready for the EU. They have a weak civil society, and no functioning government. Public institutions such as courts, the police and the health service lack the trust of the people.
If anyone is subjected to a burglary, the police are the last to go, says Cecilie Endresen, a fellow at the University of Oslo, who has worked on charting Albania's progression for the European Commission.
She believes that the EU will have enough problems to integrate Romania and Bulgaria and will wait to include new countries with a lack of social structure.
- The situation is probably not better in Romania, which will be a member state from January. I do not think the EU understood what they were doing when they took up Romania, says Endresen, who himself has lived in Romania.
The EU has the so-called Copenhagen criteria, which new countries must meet in order to become a member. The criteria are geographical, political and legal. The geographical bottom line is that the EU is a European organization.
There is no ban on non-European countries joining the Union, but Morocco's application was rejected and there has been talk that Israel cannot gain full membership.
This indicates that the EU does not want an enlargement outside Europe at first. Nevertheless, the Caucasus countries are occasionally mentioned as potential member states, and the President of Kazakhstan has stated that since a larger part of Kazakhstan than Turkey is within Europe, they should have an equal right to membership. Although the statement is geographically questionable, it emphasizes that the former Soviet republics of Central Asia still feel a connection to Europe.
The other two criteria are political and economic.
The economic is mainly about having a functioning market economy and balance in the state budget, while the political involves respect for human rights, democracy and fair treatment of minorities.
- If you look at the status of the various criteria, the EU has so far been more flexible when it comes to economics, than when it comes to basic human rights, says researcher Helene Sjursen at Arena, Center for European Studies at the University of Oslo.
Sjursen believes the EU has committed to further enlargement, not for economic reasons, but because of a desire to create a stable and democratic Europe. Still, she points out that the recent expansion has been a financial strain and that it may take time for new countries to become members.
- Enlargement is a process that is costly for the EU, because the economic differences between new and old member states are large.
Opinion is turning In Turkey, opinion is about to turn. While there was great optimism among Turks when they started the member negotiations a year ago, the trend has now reversed. Since Laciner, director of the Turkish think tank Ucak, has previously published a book in which he argued strongly for Turkish EU membership. Now he has changed his mind.
- I changed my position because I have seen what I believe is dishonesty on the part of the EU. Countries such as France and Austria have come up with proposals that indicate that they do not want Turkey to become a member, he says.
He also does not believe that the EU really wants Turkish EU membership, and that the EU's policy against Turkey is rooted in religious discrimination. This is a view that more and more Turks share with him. In a survey conducted this summer, 70 percent of those surveyed said they were opposed to Turkish membership in the EU if this meant that Turkey had to go through new political changes.
The EU is likely to demand new reforms in Turkey. It is especially the military's influence in the government, the relationship with the Kurdish minority and Article 301 of the Criminal Code the EU is critical. This article states that it is forbidden to offend Turkish citizenship, and is the law that author and Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk is accused of having broken when he stated about the genocide of Armenians in 1918. Many Turks believe the EU is hypocritical, pointing to similar laws in Italy and Austria.
Recently, a law was passed in France prohibiting people from denying that the killing of Armenians was a genocide. Laciner sees this as an attempt to keep Turkey out of the EU. Why did they pass this law now? asks Laciner.
In addition, the problems related to Cyprus come.
The EU allowed the Greek part of the island to become a member in 2004, although, contrary to the EU's recommendation, it did not sign a peace agreement with the Turkish part.
The question of the Kurds' rights is even more difficult. Aysel Tugluk, in the Kurdish Party The Democratic People's Party (DTP), believes Turkey cannot join the EU until these issues are resolved.
- One of the EU's criteria for member states is that there must be rights for minorities. It does not exist in Turkey. We cannot receive mother tongue education, we must not practice our culture. If the EU takes on Turkey as a member, it will give up its own values.