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Agenda 2000 - Commission launches EU enlargement process

The EU took the first step towards enlargement on 16 July 1997, when Jacques Santer, President of the European Commission, presented the Agenda 2000 package to the European Parliament in Strasbourg. In addition to assessing the readiness of the applicant countries for EU membe...
The EU took the first step towards enlargement on 16 July 1997, when Jacques Santer, President of the European Commission, presented the Agenda 2000 package to the European Parliament in Strasbourg. In addition to assessing the readiness of the applicant countries for EU membership, Agenda 2000 is designed to prepare the European Union for enlargement early in the next century, when a number of Central and Eastern European countries are expected to join.

The Commission gave positive opinions on five of the ten Central and Eastern European countries which have applied for membership. The Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Poland and Slovenia were judged to have fulfilled the political and economic criteria for EU membership. The remaining applicants, Bulgaria, Lithuania, Latvia, Romania and Slovakia, whilst not yet able to satisfy the criteria, are making progress on achieving these and the Commission will report again on this before the end of 1998. The Commission recommends that the EU open accession negotiations with the first five countries, as well as with Cyprus, on which the Commission delivered a positive opinion in 1993. The 15 EU heads of state and government are due to take the decision on which countries to open negotiations with at the European Council in Luxembourg, in December 1997.

In order to prepare the EU for the accession of new members, the Commission's package proposes major reforms of two key Community policies: the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and the Structural Funds. In addition, it outlines the proposed Community financial framework for the years 2000 to 2006, and the reinforced "pre-accession strategy", which will provide support to all the applicant countries, both the first group and those which will join at a later date.

Reform of the CAP will continue the conversion from price-support to direct aid, started in 1992. The aim is to ensure that the Central and Eastern European countries, in whose economies agriculture is comparatively more important than in the existing Member States, can be integrated into the Community's farming policies.

The proposals for reform of the Structural Funds acknowledge the fact that the applicant countries are substantially poorer than many of the EU regions currently receiving assistance from the Structural Funds. The Commission is proposing, therefore, to reduce the proportion of the Union's current population covered by the regional objectives of the Funds from 51% to between 35% and 40%. The Structural Funds would focus on three Objectives, in place of the current seven:

- 1: Regions lagging behind (with per capita GDP lower than 75% of the EU average). These regions will receive around two-thirds of the total Structural Funds financing for the existing 15 Member States;
- 2: Economic and social reconversion (areas not covered by Objective 1 with unemployment higher than the EU average); and
- 3: Human resources (assistance for adaptation and modernization of education, training and employment, in regions not covered by Objectives 1 or 2).

Funding for regions no longer eligible for Structural Fund support would be phased out gradually over the period 2000-2006. The Community Initiatives would also be reduced from the present 13 to three, although many of the areas currently supported by the Initiatives would be incorporated in the three Objectives.

The EU's new financial framework, which will run from 2000 until 2006, must be geared to an enlarged Union, with the first new members likely to join in 2002 or 2003, in the second half of the framework. The Commission has, however, recognized the budgetary constraints prevalent in Member States and proposes to follow similar discipline in the Community budget. Therefore, it proposes not to raise the ceiling from the current maximum of 1.27% of Community GNP (in 1999), agreed in Edinburgh in 1992. The Community budget will not in fact reach this ceiling in 1999, so the Commission suggests that this margin, together with the projected economic growth in the period, will allow the Community budget to remain below the 1.27% ceiling. Reductions in agricultural spending, a greater focus on priority fields and reformed financial management will also help to maintain the budget ceiling.

Commitments, at 1997 prices, are projected to total some ECU 97.8 billion in 1999, rising to around ECU 114 billion by 2006, the end of the next financial framework. Within this, the budget for internal policies will rise from ECU 6.1 billion in 1999 to around ECU 8 billion in 2006. The internal policies section covers priority Community policies for creating growth and employment, such as research and development, the trans-European networks (TENs) and support for SMEs. In particular, following an agreement reached at the European Council in Edinburgh in 1992, research spending should represent between half and two-thirds of the total internal policies budget.

Following the presentation of its proposed financial framework for the years 2000-2006, which includes the final three years of the Fifth RTD Framework Programme, the Commission will shortly put forward its proposals for the Programme's budget, thus completing its legislative proposal for the Fifth Framework Programme. The Commission has already indicated that its budgetary proposal for the Fifth Framework Programme will represent at least the same proportion of Community GNP as the Fourth Framework Programme's budget. It may be recalled that the budget for the Fourth Framework Programme was towards the upper limit of the margins agreed in Edinburgh and, as a guide, it is likely that the budget for the new Framework Programme will account for slightly more than 60% of the internal policies budget in each year.

With regard to the pre-accession strategy, the Commission is proposing a mechanism to step up assistance to the applicant states to prepare them for accession to the EU. This will build on the Europe Agreements concluded with each country, the Structured Dialogue between the Council of Ministers and Ministers from the applicant states, and the PHARE technical assistance programme. The Commission proposes the creation of Accession Partnerships, tailored to each country's needs, which will coordinate all forms of assistance for the adoption and integration of Community legislation in the applicant countries. In addition opportunities for participation by the applicant states in Community programmes will be extended. In order to fund participation by these countries in Community programmes, including the Fifth RTD Framework Programme, the restrictions on the PHARE programme's part-financing of such participation would be raised from the 10% limit currently in force.

The Commission's Agenda 2000 package will now be the subject of wide-ranging debate in the Council of Ministers and the European Council. Whilst the European Council will decide on the first wave of applicants and the financial framework, the other components of the package will be discussed in the relevant Councils. The Commission is hopeful that the whole package will be adopted before the end of 1999, when the current financial framework and Structural Funds Regulations expire. Successful conclusion of these discussions would then pave the way for EU enlargement to begin in 2002 or 2003, depending on the success of negotiations with each applicant. Agenda 2000, whilst a major step towards enlargement, is only the formal launch of a long, tortuous process.

Related information

Countries (4)

  • Czechia, Estonia, Poland, Slovenia


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