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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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EU Politics

70% of the EU adult population fully vaccinated

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Today, the EU has reached a crucial milestone with 70% of the adult population now fully vaccinated. In total, over 256 million adults in the EU have now received a full vaccine course. Seven weeks ago already, the Commission’s delivery target was met, ahead of time: to provide Member States, by the end of July, with enough vaccine doses to fully vaccinate 70% of the adult EU population.

The President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, said:  “The full vaccination of 70% of adults in the EU already in August is a great achievement. The EU’s strategy of moving forward together is paying off and putting Europe at the vanguard of the global fight against COVID-19.  But the pandemic is not over. We need more. I call on everyone who can to get vaccinated. And we need to help the rest of the world vaccinate, too. Europe will continue to support its partners in this effort, in particular the low and middle income countries.”

Stella Kyriakides, Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, said:  “I am very pleased that as of today we have reached our goal to vaccinate 70% of EU adults before the end of the summer. This is a collective achievement of the EU and its Member States that shows what is possible when we work together with solidarity and in coordination. Our efforts to further increase vaccinations across the EU will continue unabated. We will continue to support in particular those Member States that are continuing to face challenges. We need to close the immunity gap and the door for new variants and to do so, vaccinations must win the race over variants.”

Global cooperation and solidarity

The rapid, full vaccination of all targeted populations – in Europe and globally – is key to controlling the impact of the pandemic. The EU has been leading the multilateral response. The EU has exported about half of the vaccines produced in Europe to other countries in the world, as much as it has delivered for its citizens.  Team Europe has contributed close to €3 billion for the COVAX Facility to help secure at least 1.8 billion doses for 92 low and lower middle-income countries. Currently, over 200 million doses have been delivered by COVAX to 138 countries.

In addition, Team Europe aims to share at least 200 million more doses of vaccines secured under the EU’s advance purchase agreements to low and middle-income countries until the end of 2021, in particular through COVAX, as part of the EU sharing efforts

Preparing for new variants

Given the threat of new variants, it is important to continue ensuring the availability of sufficient vaccines, including adapted vaccines, also in the coming years. That is why the Commission signed a new contract with BioNTech-Pfizer on 20 May, which foresees the delivery of 1.8 billion doses of vaccines between the end of the year and 2023. For the same purpose, the Commission has also exercised the option of 150 million doses of the second Moderna contract. Member States have the possibility to resell or donate doses to countries in need outside the EU or through the COVAX Facility, contributing to a global and fair access to vaccines across the world. Other contracts may follow. This is the EU’s common insurance policy against any future waves of COVID-19.

Background

A safe and effective vaccine is our best chance to beat coronavirus and return to our normal lives. The European Commission has been working tirelessly to secure doses of potential vaccines that can be shared with all.

The European Commission has secured up to 4.6 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines so far and negotiations are underway for additional doses. The Commission is also working with industry to step up vaccine manufacturing capacity.

At the same time, the Commission has started work to tackle new variants, aiming to rapidly develop and produce effective vaccines against these variants on a large scale. The HERA Incubator helps in responding to this threat.

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EU’s defence measures against unfair trade practices remained effective in 2020

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The system for protecting EU businesses from dumped and subsidised imports continued to function well in 2020 thanks to the EU’s robust and innovative ways of using trade defence instruments (TDI), despite the practical challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic. This is part of the European Commission’s new trade strategy, whereby the EU takes a more assertive stance in defending its interests against unfair trade practices.

Executive Vice-President and Commissioner for Trade Valdis Dombrovskis said: “The EU needs effective tools to defend ourselves when we face unfair trade practices. This is a key pillar of our new strategy for an open, sustainable and assertive trade policy. We have continued to use our trade defence instruments effectively during the COVID-19 pandemic, improved their monitoring and enforcement, and tackled new ways of giving subsidies by third countries.  We will not tolerate the misuse of trade defence instruments by our trading partners and we will continue to support our exporters caught up in such cases. It is crucial that our companies and their workers can continue to rely on robust trade defence instruments that protect them against unfair trade practices.”

At the end of 2020, the EU had 150 trade defence measures in force, in line with previous years’ activity levels with an increase in the number of cases lodged towards the end of 2020. In addition, for the first time, the Commission addressed a new type of subsidy given by third countries in the form of cross-border financial support that was a serious challenge for EU companies.

The following are the main trade-defence highlights of 2020:

Continued high level of EU trade defence activity

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Commission had to swiftly introduce temporary changes to its work practices, especially concerning on-the-spot verification visits. This allowed the Commission to continue applying the instruments at the highest standards without a drop in the levels of activity. At the end of 2020, the 150 trade defence measures that the EU had in place – 10 more than at the end of 2019 – included 128 anti-dumping, 19 anti-subsidy and 3 safeguard measures.

In 2020, the Commission launched:

  • 15 investigations, compared to 16 in 2019, and imposed 17 provisional and definitive measures, compared to 15 in 2019;
  • 28 reviews, compared to 23 the previous year.

The highest number of EU trade defence measures concerns imports from:

  • China (99 measures);
  • Russia (9 measures);
  • India (7 measures);
  • The United States (6 measures).

Tackling new types of subsidies

In 2020, the Commission strengthened its action against subsidies granted by third countries. In particular, the Commission imposed countervailing duties on cross-border financial support given by China to Chinese-owned companies manufacturing glass fibre fabrics and continuous filament glass fibre products based in Egypt for export to the EU.

This means that, for the first time, the Commission addressed cross-border subsidies given by a country to enterprises located in another country for exports to the EU.

Support to, and defence of, EU exporters facing trade defence investigations in export markets

The importance of monitoring trade defence action taken by third countries was again evident in 2020. The number of trade defence measures in force by third countries affecting EU exporters reached its highest level since the Commission started this monitoring activity, with 178 measures in place. In addition, the number of cases initiated also increased in 2020, with 43 compared to 37 the previous year.

The report outlines the Commission’s activities to ensure that WTO rules are correctly applied and procedural errors and legal inconsistencies are addressed in order to avoid any misuse of trade defence instruments by third countries. The Commission’s interventions yielded success in some cases where measures were not ultimately imposed, affecting important EU export products such as ceramic tiles and fertilisers.  

Strong focus on monitoring and enforcement

There was a renewed focus on the monitoring of measures in place in 2020, including changes to surveillance practices to ensure the ongoing effectiveness of the trade defence instruments. This also involved customs authorities, EU industry, and in certain instances, the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF). Continuing its efforts to address instances where exporters tried to avoid measures, the Commission initiated three anti-circumvention investigations in 2020 and completed five such investigations during the year, where measures were extended in four cases to also address imports from third countries where transhipment was found to have taken place.

The report also recalls the findings of the European Court of Auditors from July 2020, which confirmed the successful enforcement of the EU’s trade defence instruments by the Commission. The report made a number of recommendations to further strengthen the Commission’s response to the challenges posed by unfairly traded imports that the Commission has started to implement in 2020, such as improving monitoring to ensure the effectiveness of measures. 

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Fishing opportunities in the Baltic Sea for 2022: improving long-term sustainability of stocks

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The Commission today adopted its proposal for fishing opportunities for 2022 for the Baltic Sea. Based on this proposal, EU countries will determine how much fish can be caught in the sea basin, for what concerns the most important commercial species.

The Commission proposes to increase fishing opportunities for herring in the Gulf of Riga, whilst maintaining the current levels for sprat, plaice and by-catches of eastern cod. The Commission proposes to decrease fishing opportunities for the remaining stocks covered by the proposal, in order to improve the sustainability of those stocks and to help other stocks such as cod and herring recovering.

Virginijus Sinkevičius, Commissioner for Environment, Oceans and Fisheries, said: “The poor environmental status of the Baltic Sea is heavily affecting our local fishermen and women, who rely on healthy fish stocks for their livelihoods. This is why the Commission is doing its utmost to restore those stocks, and today’s proposal is a reflection of that ambition. However, the state of the Baltic Sea is not only related to fishing, so everyone must do their part to build the long-term sustainability of this precious sea basin.”

Over the past decade, EU’s fishermen and women, industry and public authorities have made major efforts to rebuild fish stocks in the Baltic Sea. Where complete scientific advice was available, fishing opportunities had already been set in line with the principle of maximum sustainable yield (MSY) for seven out of eight stocks, covering 95% of fish landings in volume. However, in 2019 scientists discovered that the situation was worse than previously estimated. Decisive action is still necessary to restore all stocks and ensure that they grow to or remain at sustainable levels.

The proposed total allowable catches (TACs) are based on the best available peer-reviewed scientific advice from the International Council on the Exploration of the Seas (ICES) and follow the Baltic multiannual management plan adopted in 2016 by the European Parliament and the Council. As regards western Baltic cod, western Baltic herring and salmon, the Commission will update its proposal once the relevant scientific advice will be available (expected by mid-September).

Cod

For eastern Baltic cod, the Commission proposes to maintain the TAC level and all the accompanying measures from the 2021 fishing opportunities. Despite the measures taken since 2019, when scientists first alarmed about the very poor status of the stock, the situation has not yet improved.

For western Baltic cod the scientific advice from the International Council on the Exploration of the Seas (ICES) is postponed to mid-September, and the Commission will update its proposal accordingly. However, since it seems unlikely that the stock has developed favourably, the Commission proposes already now to maintain the spawning closure. It also proposes to maintain all accompanying measures in the eastern part of the catch area, given the predominance of eastern Baltic cod in that area.

Herring

The stock size of western Baltic herring remains below safe biological limits and scientists advise for the fourth year in a row to stop catching western herring. The Commission, therefore, proposes to close the directed fishery and set a TAC limited to unavoidable by-catches, whose level the Commission will propose at a later stage, as ICES is currently not in a position to provide sufficient scientific data.

For central Baltic herring, the Commission proposes a reduction of 54% in line with the ICES advice, because the stock size has dropped very close to the limit below which the stock is not sustainable. In line with the ICES advice, the Commission proposes to decrease the TAC level for herring in the Gulf of Bothnia by 5%, while the situation for Riga herring allows for an increase of the TAC by 21%.

Plaice

While the ICES advice would allow for an increase, the Commission remains cautious, mainly to protect cod – which is an unavoidable by-catch in plaice fisheries as currently conducted. It therefore proposes to maintain the TAC level unchanged.

Sprat

Similarly to plaice, the ICES advice for sprat would allow for an increase. The Commission however advises prudence and proposes to maintain the TAC level unchanged. This is because sprat and herring are caught in mixed fisheries and the TAC for central Baltic herring has to be reduced again significantly. Moreover, sprat is a prey species for cod, which is not in a good condition.

Salmon

ICES has postponed its scientific advice for salmon to mid-September. The Commission will update its proposal accordingly. A special advice from ICES of April 2020 already provides information about the issues affecting these stocks, pointing to the fact  that the MSY objective cannot be achieved for all salmon river stocks if the commercial and recreational mixed-stock sea fisheries are continued at current levels.

Next steps

The Council will examine the Commission’s proposal in view of adopting it during a Ministerial meeting on 11-12 October.

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