Newsletter 17/2011 - Guest Commentator
Member of European Parliament, Sweden
National parliaments of candidate countries and European Parliament need to cooperate in the EU pre–accession phase
An important part of the work within the European Union (EU) as a political and economical union is to try to expand the European cooperation to other countries and regions. In practice, the procedure for joing the EU is as follows: any country that wishes to join the EU and satisfies the conditions for enlargement can submit an application for membership to the Council; the Council asks the Commission to assess the applicant’s ability to meet the conditions of membership. If the Commission delivers a positive opinion, and the Council unanimously agrees a negotiating mandate, negotiations are formally opened between the candidate and all the member states.
The financial instrument used in this process is the Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance (IPA). Assistance is provided on the basis of the European Partnerships of the potential candidates and the Accession Partnerships of the candidate countries, which means the Western Balkan countries, Turkey and Iceland. The IPA is intended as a flexible instrument and therefore provides assistance which depends on the progress made by the beneficiary countries and their needs as shown in the Commission’s evaluations and strategy papers. The beneficiary countries are divided into two categories, depending on their status as either candidate countries under the accession process or potential candidates under the stabilization and association process, namely: candidate countries and potential candidate countries.
The European Parliament (EP) has an important monitoring role to play in the negotiations and right up to the accession of new Member States. In the European Parliament, it is the Committee on Foreign Affairs, which is responsible for coordinating the work on enlargement and ensuring consistency between the positions adopted by the Parliament and the activities of its specialist committees, as well as those of the joint parliamentary committees. Parliament's most significant power in respect of enlargement is to give its assent before any country joins the EU. This power is exercised only at the final stage, once the negotiations have been completed. However, in view of Parliament's key role, it has been in the interest of the other institutions to ensure the European Parliament's participation from the beginning. The Parliament also has a significant role to play with regard to the financial aspects of accession in its capacity as one of the two arms of the budgetary authority of the EU. The EP votes on every sector of the budget of the European Union, which includes the funds for enlargement and work with pre-accession of candidate countries.
Within the European Parliament, the committee on Foreign Affairs is the responsible committee for the opening, monitoring and concluding of negotiations concerning the accession of European States to the Union. It plays an important role in the pre-accession phase of the candidate countries. A part of the European Parliament's engagement in the enlargement process is to adopt resolutions on the enlargement process of the candidates, where it comments on the progress of the candidates and the preparation and conclusions of the European Council. When a country becomes a candidate country it is entitled to get one yearly progress report from the European Parliament on its progress towards the membership.
A vital part of cooperation between the European parliament and the national parliaments of candidate countries takes of course place in the Joint Parliamentary Committees (JPC) established by the European Parliament, in the framework of relations with national parliaments, regular cooperation with the parliaments of the candidate states and the work of the specialist committees.
Within the JPC cooperation, the members of the European Parliament meet on a regular basis with their counterparts from the candidate countries. Relevant country rapporteurs of the Foreign Affairs Committee attend these meetings. The JPC meetings take place twice a year in order to exercise parliamentary oversight of all aspects of bilateral relations and to examine in detail the progress in the accession preparations and negotiations. Each JPC meeting is concluded by joint Declarations and Recommendations which reflect the progress achieved and the commitments for future work. Within the work of the specialist committees, nominated individual members follow sector-specific enlargement issues. Their opinions are incorporated into the enlargement resolutions.
As the negotiations move towards tackling the most difficult negotiating chapters, the various specialist committees of the European Parliament became increasingly involved in monitoring the process of negotiations in the policy areas for which they are responsible and in the administrative capacity of the candidates to implement the European legislation. Within this work, many committees have sent delegations on fact-finding missions to a number of candidate countries and have organised hearings on specific issues.
With these measures, the European Parliament tries to address and highlight in the reports the needs of the beneficiary countries within the context of pre-accession policy. The EP tries to support the institution-building and the rule of law, human rights, including the fundamental freedoms, minority rights, gender equality and non-discrimination, both administrative and economic reforms, economic and social development, reconciliation and reconstruction, and regional and cross-border cooperation, through its committees and delegation trips. A key aim of assistance is to support political reform, in particular institution building, strengthening the rule of law, human rights, protection of minorities and the development of civil society.
To conclude, it is worth underlining that the European Parliament is known for its strong commitment to the enlargement of the European cooperation and its assistance to the candidate countries in their preparation for membership. The EP is of the opinion that the enlargement policy has proved to be one of the most successful of all EU policies and has benefited the Member States. In light of the important role the EP has as a driving force in the accession phase of a candidate country, it is of outmost importance that the national parliament and the parliamentarians fully engage in cooperation with the European Parliament.
Ibrisagic has been a Member of European Parliament (EP) from Sweden since
2004. Prior to that, Ibrisagic was member of the Swedish Parliament (2002-2004),
and managing Director of Norrbotten Chamber of Commerce (2001-2002). She is
member of the EP’s Committee on Foreign Affairs.