Interview with Pierre Mirel, Director for Western Balkans in European Commission’s DG Enlargement
00:00 Exterior shots of European Commission « Charlemagne » building
00:18 Pierre Mirel in his office
00:39 From signing Stabilization and Association Agreement to obtaining candidate status – what is the realistic time frame?
First of all I think it is important to recall what Commissioner Rehn said – that this is the first step for moving forward on the EU path. One needs to have SAA first before considering any further step. But then there is what we call implementation. And this is a well established principle, a SAA is an agreement on the paper and you have to implement it. And there are important provisions to be implemented on accession political criteria, on the reform of judiciary, fight against corruption etc, which are close to the heart of the Commission but even more to the Member states. So this has to be implemented, we need to see progress on the ground not just on paper. Secondly, there are also core elements in the SAA, core elements of the internal market: on competition, state aids, intellectual property protection. This has to be implemented also, so that we really have a track record of the progress on the ground and that agreement is really implemented. How long does it take? That depends on Serbia. It is very difficult to say, it can take more time with a country, less time in another country, that’s impossible to say.
2:05 What matters really for that is to have political willingness in the country to implement provisions which really matter for track record, and not just the political willingness but actually to do it, to show the progress. If this is done rather quickly, and Serbia had rather good administration, than it can happen in the course of 2008.
2:40 Once a country applies for candidate status, what are the next steps?
First of all, the European Council has to ask the Commission to issue its opinion on the membership application, which means that the Council accepts the application and therefore asks the Commission to do the job.
3:00 This is a huge process, as an average over the last 10-15 years it has taken some nine to ten months. We send a questionnaire with many different questions and all EU legislation elements to a country. A country replies, we assess and if we are not satisfied wit the replies we have to go back, have meetings etc. At the end we produce our opinion which is decisive, because it is on that basis that the Council will say Yes or No. So, that’s quite an important exercise; it’s better to spend one additional month if needed than doing a job in hurry and risking to have some problems at the end.
3:49 Does the agreement on the new EU treaty open the door for further Enlargement?
Before there was this agreement there were some very clear voices, in particular very clearly stated at the European Parliament a few weeks ago, that without a new Treaty there shouldn’t be any further enlargement. So, this is a very welcomed agreement. And hopefully it is also the intention of Member states to have this treaty ratified by 2009, by the next EP elections. So this is very positive and it should also help changing the mood in the EU regarding enlargement. Commissioner Rehn states on a regular basis that there is enlargement fatigue, but this new treaty should really help to have a new consensus for the enlargement for the Western Balkans.
4:53 On the initiative of some member states to include the Copenhagen criteria in the new Treaty
Maybe I will shock you with my response, but for me 90 percent of the Copenhagen criteria are already in the Treaty. That’s in Article 6 – it includes 90 percent of the Copenhagen criteria. Article 6 of the current Nice Treaty. And the same text was in the draft Constitutional Treaty. So I guess it will be retained in the new Treaty. There is only one part of the Copenhagen criteria that is not in the current Treaty that concerns the treatment of minorities. But otherwise human rights protection, the rule of law, democracy, established institutions etc. – this is already part of the Treaty. So sometimes I have difficulties understanding this debate.
5:48 Can an agreement on the Treaty bring new dynamics to the Enlargement process and speed up opening of membership negotiations with Macedonia?
You are back to the track record issue that we discussed just before. Again, any country after having SAA has to demonstrate a certain track record and to make sure that the key reforms have taken place. This is what we expect from Skopje and it remains to be seen when it will happen.
6:15 Exterior shot of the European Commission building