To make progress in membership talks with the EU, Turkey must implement reforms and support a solution of the Cyprus issue, Stefan Fule, the new EU Enlargement Commissioner tells Deutsche Welle.
All candidate countries have homework to do, says Fule
Stefan Fule became the new EU Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighborhood in February 2010. Prior to his appointment he was the Czech Republic's European Affairs Minister. Earlier, Fule had also served as Czech ambassador in London and permanent representative to NATO.
Deutsche Welle: To an outside observer it appears that EU accession talks with Turkey have been put on the backburner compared to a few years ago. Is that an accurate impression?
Stefan Fule: I don't fully agree with that picture. The truth is that the engine of that process of negotiations are reforms in Turkey by the Turkish government, by the Turkish parliament on one side. On the other side, the truth is because of the Cyprus issue and related issues like non-compliance with the Ankara agreement, the area of manoeuvrability as far as the number of the chapters to be opened and discussed in this case, is probably smaller than it is in the case of other candidate countries. But that does not mean that we are not serious about the process. That does not mean that I think that Turkish officials are not serious about that process.
What then needs to happen in Ankara to speed up this process?
I was talking about the reforms and that's one of the things. I think for example that the package on constitutional amendments which has a very strong pro-European element is a step in the right direction. The Turkish authorities also know very well what the requirements are concerning the chapters which are now under discussion, where we have a number of important benchmarks already fulfilled, but there is still some remaining work to be done. The Turkish authorities also know that fully supporting the talks on the comprehensive solution of the Cyprus issue is also an important element of the overall process.
You have mentioned Cyprus twice now. But the Cyprus issue of course doesn't just involve the Turkish side, but also the Greek and the Greek-Cypriot side. Do you see any tangible progress on that issue or a timeline when this could be solved?
A timeline is something that is very difficult to predict. I think what's important is to have the confidence that the talks are actually progressing - and they are progressing. If you look what happened in 1974 and the developments since then, everybody who is able to study that period of time understands the complexity of the issue which both leaders are trying to resolve. They have support not only from the UN, they have support also from the European Union; there is a special envoy helping President Barroso with the EU-related aspects of the negotiations. Let's see where the two leaders could bring these discussions before the elections and how we are going to proceed after that. But I hope that the momentum will not be lost.
Let's expand our discussion beyond Turkey. If you look at your portofolio of countries wanting to join the EU, how would you rank progress among those countries? Who is on track and who needs to do a lot more?
I think we are at a stage where everybody still has some homework to do. And of course particularly in the region of the Western Balkans you can hardly find two countries which are on the same footing, although the commission is currently preparing an opinion and also a recommendation to the European Council later on whether to start accession talks with Albania and Montenegro. Croatia has made fantastic progress in the recent months and they are now in the final stage. That does not mean that is going to be an easy final leap. I hope we will able to open the remaining chapters during the Spanish presidency and on some of these chapters which are connected with the Copenhagen criteria, particularly with the political criteria, that we will have an opportunity not only to monitor whether the respective legislative acts have been adopted and institutions founded and established, but also that the legislation is being implemented. I think establishing a track record, particularly in the field of fundamental freedoms, rule of law and good governance is extremly important for Croatia, but actually for all countries of the region.
Of course we also hope very much that we will be able to start accession talks with the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. The country made fantastic progress last year and because of that the commission has recommended to the European Council at the end of last year to start the accession talks. And I hope very much that the remaining time until the end of the Spanish presidency will be used by both Macedonians and the Greek government to find a solution to the name issue which would then allow the member states to give that green light.
And it's important not to leave any country in the cold. I think the member states clearly expressed that the European perspective is shared by everybody there in the Western Balkans. So we have to find a way to help Bosnia-Hercegovina to move from being a poor state to a European area and also look at how to engage Kosovo.
If you look ahead: The EU now has 27 members, how many will it have five years from now?
I don't know. It doesn't depend on the commission and definitely not on the commissioner's wishes, it depends on how serious the candidate countries are and whether the member states are ready to appreciate that seriousness and readiness by accepting these countries. I hope we will have new members. I hope the European Union will be larger. I strongly believe we will do everything that it is not only larger, but stronger and that's probably my humble aspiration within these next four and half years: To turn the accession process into a process where quality is on everybody's mind and where it is the quality that is important and not the time. When deciding on accession of the candidate countries no one should be doubting the readiness of those countries and that the term that some people use, enlargement fatigue, will disappear from our vocabulary.
You haven't mentioned Georgia or Ukraine and other countries further to the east. What is your take on them?
Talking about these countries, you are talking about an extremely important region for Europe. They are part of the neighborhood policy because of the importance the European Union gave last year to the Eastern Partnership framework for the six countries of Eastern Europe. And I see the Ukraine as one which has progressed well in using the benefits of that structured cooperation which would provide the Ukraine and other partners with a framework of political association and economic integration. It is an ambitious program to bring these countries closer to the European Union.
You mentioned enlargement fatigue. Many Europeans feel that 27 EU member states is enough for now and that, especially in light of the current economic crisis, the EU should focus on doing its homework with the present member countries and not concentrate too much on expansion. What do you tell those people?
Assure them that the enlargement process is one of the main instruments how the European Union makes sure that it is not looking inwards, but outwards. It is one of those important elements for us playing a greater role on the global scene. And I am sure that if we add this quality to the process, if we make sure that whoever joins the European Union really makes a valuable contribution to the European Union, the people would see advantages of that process and of that historical project.
Interview: Michael Knigge
Editor: Rob Turner