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EU accession process: Revised enlargement methodology

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Today’s Communication sets out the Commission’s proposals to strengthen the EU accession process. It aims to make the enlargement process more credible, predictable, dynamic and subject to stronger political steering. This will reinvigorate the accession process and make it more effective, enhancing credibility and trust on both sides.

What is new in these proposals? How did the enlargement methodology change?

The revised enlargement methodology builds on four main principles

Credibility:

Candidate countries need to deliver on the reforms they promised, and EU needs to deliver when they do.

Stronger political steer:

Engaging with the candidates at top level through regular summits and ministerial meetings.

Member States will be involved more strongly and have better opportunities to monitor and review the process.

A more dynamic process:

Clustering chapters will allow for more thorough political discussions on thematic areas and to identify opportunities for early alignment and integration into EU policies.

The cluster on fundamentals (rule of law, economic criteria and public administration reform) will take a central role and sufficient progress will need to be achieved before other clusters can be opened.

Predictability for both sides:

Defining more clearly the conditions for candidate countries. Providing them with clear incentives if key reforms successfully implemented – closer integration of the country with the European Union.

Clear incentives: supporting solid and accelerated economic development and tangible benefits for citizens in order to provide the environment that allows for the substantial reforms needed, e.g. increased investment opportunities, work for accelerated integration and “phasing-in” to individual EU policies, the EU markets and EU programmes, while ensuring a level playing field and strengthened regional integration.

More decisive measures sanctioning any serious or prolonged stagnation or even backsliding: from slowing down negotiations, to adjusting funding and withdrawing benefits of closer integration.

Is the Commission changing its enlargement policy?

The conditions to join the EU are set out in the Treaty on European Union and by the Copenhagen criteria, which are very clear, and do not change. The proposals will improve the process and make it more comprehensive.

Previous enlargement countries did not have to fulfil all these conditions. You are moving the goalposts and delaying the accession process.

No, the revised methodology is based on the same, well-established criteria to join the EU. These were defined already in 1993 at the European Council in Copenhagen: need to have stable institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights and respect for and protection of minorities; a functioning market economy and the capacity to cope with competition and market forces in the EU; the ability to take on and implement effectively the obligations of membership.

In the case of the Western Balkans, additional conditions for membership were set out in the ‘Stabilisation and Association Process’, mostly relating to regional cooperation and good neighbourly relations.

There are no shortcuts to membership. It is true that the accession process today is more demanding than in the past. But this is because the process has been made more rigorous to help the countries tackle the more difficult challenges they face in their reform efforts.

How do you asses the progress of enlargement countries?

Each year the Commission adopts its “Enlargement package” – which includes a Communication on enlargement (setting out the way forward and taking stock of the situation in the enlargement countries) and individual country Reports. In the Reports, the Commission presents its detailed assessment of the state of play in each candidate country and potential candidate, what has been achieved over the last year, and set out guidelines on reform priorities. The assessments are based on the Commission’s regular monitoring of the situation in the countries, input from the EU Delegations on the ground and from a variety of other sources, including: contributions from the EU Member States, European Parliament reports, contributions from the governments of the countries, and information from various international and non-governmental organisations.

How does the EU support reforms in the enlargement countries?

The EU helps the countries that wish to become members with political, financial and technical support. This makes it easier for them to make progress in meeting the well-established requirements of membership, in particular implementing far-reaching reforms and aligning with EU rules and regulations.

The European Union provides the countries with financial support through the Instrument for Pre-accession Assistance. From 2014-2020, the EU dedicated EUR 11.7 billion for this purpose, with continued funding foreseen for 2021-2027. The EU and the national authorities decide on the areas where to invest the funds.

The Commission and Member States also support the enlargement countries’ public administrations with technical assistance to align, apply and enforce EU legislation as well as facilitating the sharing of EU best practices. This is done inter alia through TAIEX / Twinning workshops, expert missions and study visits.

What does the revised methodology mean for the fundamentals, in particular the rule of law?

We propose a balanced approach, which will lead to a more dynamic and more credible process, while putting an even stronger focus on the core role of fundamental reforms essential for the EU path. Rule of law will become even more central in the accession negotiations, for example through anti-corruption work being main-streamed in relevant chapters. There will be a stronger focus on the fundamentals of functioning of democratic institutions, public administration reform and supporting economic reforms. Progress on the fundamental reforms will determine the overall pace of negotiations.

Will public administration reform now be part of the accession negotiations as a chapter? What does this mean in practice?

The Commission’s proposal reconfirms the central role that public administration reform plays among the fundamentals of the enlargement process. These fundamentals will become even more central in the accession negotiations. Negotiations in the area of fundamentals will be opened first and closed last and progress on the fundamentals will determine the overall pace of negotiations. In this sense, public administration reform will be on an equal footing with the other fundamentals.  

Will the new methodology be applied only to North Macedonia and Albania, or also Serbia and Montenegro?

The new methodology will be formalised into the negotiating frameworks for North Macedonia and Albania .

Many of the proposals could also be attractive for Serbia and Montenegro, as they can contribute to making the process more dynamic, predictable and credible for them as well. Serbia and Montenegro will be able to opt in if they wish. The negotiating frameworks already in place for Montenegro and Serbia would however not need to be changed.

The fact that a revised methodology will be the basis for the new negotiating frameworks will it mean there will be a two-speed process for accession: easier for the ones already negotiating and more difficult for Albania and North Macedonia?

The accession process is equally difficult for any candidate, but in different ways, since challenges differ. Negotiating frameworks are never identical. They take into account the context of each candidate and spell out the way negotiations are conducted. The speed of progress towards accession to the EU does not depend on the negotiations frameworks but on the political will of the country to implement the necessary reforms so the country meets the EU’s accession criteria. The conditions to join the EU are the same for all countries and the speed depends on the time they take to meet the criteria.

But by proposing today adjustments to the methodology we aim at better supporting their reform process: through the clustering of chapters, clearer criteria, and stronger political steer, our objective is to help the countries to move faster on reforms.

What about Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo? What does this mean for them?

The EU has repeatedly confirmed its unequivocal support to the European perspective of the Western Balkans. The Stabilisation and Association Process remains the common framework of relations with the two.

In its conclusions of December 2019, the Council welcomed the Commission’s Opinion on Bosnia and Herzegovina’s application to EU membership. The Council urged executive and legislative bodies at all levels of government to start addressing the key priorities identified in the opinion, in line with the legitimate aspirations of the citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina to advance towards the European Union.

The EU has welcomed the appointment of the new Government in Bosnia and Herzegovina and is ready to work with the authorities on the implementation of the 14 priorities identified, paving the way towards the candidate status.

For Kosovo, it is important that the new government resumes work on reforms, including the implementation of the Stabilisation and Association Agreement and building on the European Reform Agenda, to deliver tangible results for citizens.

The Commission looks forward to working with the new Government in Kosovo and to assisting in its European Reform Agenda, focusing on strengthening the rule of law, public administration and the economy. Is it also important that Kosovo abolishes the tariffs and renews its engagement in regional initiatives and cooperation.

What are the next steps now?

The Commission hopes the Member States will endorse the proposal, in parallel with the opening of accession negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania, ahead of the European Union-Western Balkans Summit in Zagreb on 6-7 May, for which the Commission will also put forward an economic and investment development plan for the Western Balkans region. If the Council takes a positive decision in this sense, it will task the Commission with presenting draft negotiating frameworks with the two countries. These will further spell out the proposals set out in the revised methodology.

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Youth Employment Support: a bridge to jobs for the next generation

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European Commission is taking action to give young people all possible opportunities to develop their full potential to shape the future of the EU, and thrive in the green and digital transitions. The coronavirus pandemic has emphasised the often difficult start many young people face in the labour market. We need to act fast. Now is the time to direct our attention towards the next generation.

The Commission is using this opportunity to ingrain the green and digital transitions in the DNA of the EU’s youth and employment policies. With NextGenerationEU and the future EU budget, the Commission already proposed significant EU financing opportunities for youth employment. It is now for the Member States to prioritise these investments. At least €22 billion should be spent on youth employment support.

Executive Vice-President for an Economy that Works for People, Valdis Dombrovskis, said: “It is more important than ever that we help the next generation of Europeans to thrive and get on the jobs ladder, especially at this time of crisis. We are proposing clear and specific ways forward for our young people to get the professional chances that they deserve. Today’s proposals also set out what EU funding is available to support Member States in boosting youth employment. By investing in the youth of today, we will help to create a competitive, resilient and inclusive labour market for tomorrow.”

Nicolas Schmit, Commissioner for Jobs and Social Rights, said: “Now is the time to carry out much-needed reforms of the support measures we offer to young people. We owe it to the millions of graduates and those taking their early steps on the labour market to mobilise all the support we can. Our youth deserve the very best opportunities possible to develop their full potential.”

Youth Employment Support: a bridge to jobs for the next generation

The Youth Employment Support package is built around four strands that together provide a bridge to jobs for the next generation:

  • The EU created the Youth Guarantee in 2013 and has since built bridges to the labour market for some 24 million young people. The Commission’s proposal for a Council Recommendation on a Bridge to Jobs reinforces theYouth Guarantee and steps up the outreach to vulnerable young people across the EU, now covering people aged 15 – 29. The Recommendation keeps the pledge that if you sign up to the Youth Guarantee, you will receive an offer of employment, education, apprenticeship or training within four months. Bridge to Jobs will be more inclusive to avoid any forms of discrimination, with a wider outreach to more vulnerable groups, such as youth of racial and ethnic minorities, young people with disabilities, or young people living in some rural, remote or disadvantaged urban areas. It will link in with the needs of companies, providing the skills required – in particular those for the green and digital transitions – and short preparatory courses; and it will provide tailored counselling, guidance and mentoring.
  •  The Commission’s proposal for a Council Recommendation on vocational education and training aims to make systems more modern, attractive, flexible and fit for the digital and green economy. More agile, learner-centred vocational education and training will prepare young people for their first jobs and gives more adults opportunities to enhance or change their careers. It will help vocational education and training providers to become centres of vocational excellence, while supporting diversity and inclusiveness.
  •  A renewed impetus for apprenticeships will benefit both employers and young people, adding a skilled labour force to a wide range of sectors. The European Alliance for Apprenticeships has made available more than 900,000 opportunities. The renewed Alliance will promote national coalitions, support SMEs and reinforce the involvement of social partners: trade unions and employers’ organisations. The goal is to sustain the apprenticeship offers now, as apprentices we train now will be highly skilled workers in a few years’ time.
  •  Additional measures to support youth employment include employment and start-up incentives in the short term, and capacity building, young entrepreneur networks and inter-company training centres in the medium term.

The Commission urges Member States to step up youth employment support by making use of the significant funding available under NextGenerationEU and the future EU budget. For example, the EU can help fund:

  • Start-up grants and loans for young entrepreneurs, mentoring schemes and business incubators
  • Bonuses for SMEs hiring apprentices
  • Training sessions to acquire new skills needed on the labour market
  • Capacity-building of public employment services
  • Career management training in formal education
  • Investments in digital learning infrastructure and technology

Background

During the aftermath of the global 2008 financial crisis, youth unemployment went up from 16.0% in 2008 to a peak of 24.4% in 2013. The figures went down since, with record lows of 14.9%, just before the pandemic hit. Nevertheless, youth unemployment has always remained more than twice as high as general unemployment. The latest figures show that youth unemployment stood at 15.4% across the EU in April 2020. Many fear that a spike is just in front of us.

Significant EU funding is available for Member States to implement reforms spearheaded by the initiatives presented today. The European Social Fund Plus will be a key EU financial resource to support the implementation of the youth employment support measures. As part of the Recovery Plan for Europe, the Recovery and Resilience Facility and REACT-EU will provide additional financial support for youth employment.

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Most EU Member States not on track to reduce air pollution by 2030

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The assessment of Member States’ first programmes of measures to control air emissions finds that the implementation of the new European clean air rules needs improvement. Member States need to step up efforts across all sectors to make sure their citizens can breathe clean air, preventing respiratory diseases and premature death caused by breathing polluted air.

EU Commissioner for the Environment, Fisheries and Oceans Virginijus Sinkevičius said: “This report sends a clear message. All across Europe, too many citizens are still at risk from the air they breathe. We need more effective measures to cut pollution in numerous Member States and to tackle air emissions across sectors, including agriculture, transport and energy. There has never been a better time to make these changes: investing in cleaner air means investing in citizens’ health, in our climate, and it’s the kick-start our economy needs. That’s the thinking behind the European Green Deal, and it’s the logic the environment needs.”

According to the first Commission report to assess the implementation of the National Emission reduction Commitments Directive (NEC Directive) published today, most Member States are at risk of not complying with their 2020 or 2030 emission reduction commitments. While some Member States show good practices that should be inspiring for others, the Report demonstrates the need for additional measures in order to reduce air pollution. The Commission will continue to monitor and support national efforts in this regard, through financial and non-financial tools.  Efforts are especially needed in agriculture to reduce ammonia emissions, which is the most common and severe implementation challenge across the EU.

Effective implementation of clean air legislation forms an essential contribution to ‘a zero pollution ambition for a toxic-free environment’ announced by the Commission in the European Green Deal and related initiatives.  Synergies with climate and energy policies need to be enhanced and further assessed, also in line with the European Green Deal approach.

Alongside this implementation report, the Commission has also released today its consultants’ analysis of each Member State National Air Pollution Control Programme and emission projections, as well as an EU-wide horizontal report bringing together this information.

Background

The National Emission reduction Commitments Directive, which entered into force on 31 December 2016, is the main legislative instrument to achieve the 2030 objectives of the Clean Air Programme. When fully implemented, the Directive would reduce by almost 50% the negative health impacts of air pollution by 2030, and bring substantial benefits for the environment and climate.

The Directive sets national emission reduction commitments for the periods 2020-29 and more ambitious ones for 2030-onwards for five important air pollutants: nitrogen oxides (NOx), non-methane volatile organic compounds (NMVOC), sulphur dioxide (SO2), ammonia (NH3) and fine particulate matter (PM2.5).

Compliance with the 2020 emissions reduction commitments will be checked in 2022, when the emission inventories for 2020 become available.

Next steps

The NEC implementation report will be complemented later this year by the Second Clean Air Outlook which will present up-to-date modelling results on the extent to which the EU and its Member States are on track to meet their clean air objectives for 2030 and later.

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Green Deal: Commission launch the European Just Transition Platform

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On Monday 29 June, the Just Transition Platform (JTP) will be launched to help Member States to draw up their territorial Just Transition Plans and access funding from the over €150 billion Just Transition Mechanism. This online Platform will provide technical and advisory support for public and private stakeholders in coal and other carbon-intensive regions, with easy access to information on funding opportunities and sources of technical assistance.

The Platform will ensure that the €40 billion (in 2018 constant prices) proposed under the Just Transition Fund is channelled to the right projects and that no region is left behind. It will also support access to the dedicated scheme under InvestEU and the public sector loan facility, which together with the Just Transition Fund form the three pillars of the Just Transition Mechanism. The platform will provide:

  • Technical and advisory support to Member States and regions, including on the operationalisation of the territorial Just Transition Plans and the building of pipelines of projects for the Just Transition Mechanism;
  • A web-based single access point, including the possibility to contact the Commission with technical and administrative questions related to just transition;
  • Sharing of information, experience and knowledge for fossil fuel and carbon-intensive regions, with dedicated project and expert databases;
  • A forum for dialogue on just transition involving local and national stakeholders, social partners, public authorities and EU institutions.

Executive Vice-President for the European Green Deal Frans Timmermans, Commissioner for Cohesion and Reforms, Elisa Ferreira, and Commissioner for Energy, Kadri Simson, will launch the Just Transition Platform during an online event starting on Monday 29 June at 09:30.

This will kick-start a week of online events dedicated to coal, lignite, peat and oil shale regions as well as carbon-intensive regions, organised under the Coal Regions Virtual Week and a Carbon-Intensive Regions Seminar. These events will inform stakeholders of the latest EU policy developments and provide an opportunity for good practices sharing.

Next steps

The Platform will host a projects and experts database towards the end of 2020.

Members of the College said:

Executive Vice-President for the European Green Deal, Frans Timmermans, said: “Our Green Deal ambition is to demonstrate a new model for inclusive transformation based on a just transition. As we rebuild our economies and societies, we owe it to our children and grandchildren to grasp the opportunity to build a more sustainable future. With the Just Transition Platform we can start making this a reality

Commissioner for Cohesion and Reforms, Elisa Ferreira, said: “The Just Transition Platform is a firm step towards a climate-neutral Europe. I encourage authorities from all Member States to make full use of it when developing and implementing territorial just transition plans that promote economic renewal, new skills and new job opportunities. I am determined that no one is left behind and that all regions and all Europeans are able to tap the benefits of a greener, fairer more digital future.”

Commissioner for Energy, Kadri Simson, said: “The Just Transition Platform will provide tailor-made support to regions that will be most affected by the green transition. It will bring together expertise from all relevant Commission services to make sure that fossil fuel and carbon intensive regions have all the information, tools and assistance they need to transform their economies in a fair way.

Background

The Just Transition Mechanism (JTM) is part of the European Green Deal effort to create a climate-neutral economy in Europe by 2050. The Mechanism will seek to overcome the economic and social costs of the climate transition in the most vulnerable coal and carbon-intensive regions. The Mechanism consists of three pillars of financing: the Just Transition Fund, proposed on 14 January 2020 and strengthened by the 27 May Recovery Package; a dedicated just transition scheme under InvestEU; and a public sector loan facility. The three pillars are expected to mobilise more than €150 billion of investments in the EU regions most vulnerable to the climate transition over the period 2021-2027.

Announced with the European Green Deal Investment Plan, the Just Transition Platform builds on and expands the work of the Initiative for Coal Regions in Transition, and is part of the Just Transition Mechanism. It will have three work streams: coordinated technical assistance from the European Commission and the EIB group, a web-based single access point and helpdesk, and events promoting stakeholder involvement and the exchange of best practices.

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