Opinion: EU Candidate States Responsible for Bad Report Card | Europe | News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 07.11.2007

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Europe

Opinion: EU Candidate States Responsible for Bad Report Card

Reforms in the Balkans and Turkey are progressing too slowly, according to an EU report released this week. Turkey and the Balkans have to try harder if they want to join the EU, says DW's Bernd Riegert.

Opinion

The European Union's report card for candidate countries looks worse than it did last year.

Eagerness for reform has slipped in the Balkans and in Turkey. The democratic forces in Serbia are still vulnerable and the political system in Bosnia-Herzegovina is in crisis. Reforms in Macedonia are lagging due to ethnic tension, while the future of Kosovo remains uncertain -- and so on and so forth.

Accession negotiations with Croatia -- the most advanced country -- are running according to plan, but even here the problems are so big that there is no possibility of membership before 2009. The EU, however, selects its words carefully and speaks of "middle and long-term expansion."

Bernd Riegert

Bernd Riegert

The criticism from Brussels may be a blow to some of the affected states, but indeed it's necessary to uncover the weak points. The Copenhagen Criteria for EU accession -- "democracy, rule of law, a free market economy, no conflicts with neighboring states" -- have to be fulfilled. EU Expansion Commissioner Olli Rehn owes that to the existing member states.

However, it's also important that the EU doesn't fundamentally question the idea of membership for the Balkan states, from Bosnia to Albania. The goal remains. The European perspective, which should serve as a motor for integration and democratization, is still intact.

Croatia can serve as an example to the other candidate states of a country that will gradually find its way into the European Union, even if the process takes longer than expected.

For Turkey, the European Commission not only had many critical points but also praise. After all, Turkey's politicians did manage to resolve the constitutional crisis surrounding the presidential election without the involvement of the military. The role of the military must be cut back even further, however, if Turkey wants to meet European standards.

In general, reform in Turkey has slackened.

Freedom of speech, religious freedom and minority rights are still inadequate. This admonition is nothing new; Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan's criticism that the EU continually invents new rules in the middle of the game is completely inappropriate. The EU has to demand the implementation of a European legal standard if Turkey ever wants to join.

The rules aren't new at all -- they were accepted by the Turkish government when accession talks began in 2005.

Turkey is predominantly responsible for blocking the accession negotiations. Eight of 35 negotiation chapters remain closed, while Ankara refuses to open its ports and airports to Cyprus, an EU member state. As far as the Cyprus issue goes, no progress has been made over the past year.

The report card from Brussels provides further munitions to the notorious opponents of EU membership for Turkey. France's lively President Sarkozy, for example, will continue to fight against Turkish accession.

And if Turkey marches into northern Iraq to dispose of the PKK, they would do the membership opponents a big favor as an attack in Iraq would go against EU norms.

The speed and success of accession negotiations depend on the candidate countries themselves.

The EU is making an effort to act fairly, but it's also learned a thing or two from past expansion rounds. Premature membership can lead to a backlash. For example, in Romania, which joined the bloc in 2007 despite major reservations, anti-corruption efforts came to a halt just a few months after accession and now the EU is without leverage.

Bernd Riegert is DW-RADIO's Brussels correspondent (kjb)

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