|Slovenia at the Top of the List of Applicant Countries |
Slovenia at the Top of the List of Applicant Countries
Speech by British Minister for Europe, Peter Hain, to the Slovenian International Relations Society, Ljubljana, Slovenia, Wednesday, January 9, 2002.
I am delighted to be in Ljubljana today. And I am very grateful to Mr Kosin and the Slovenian International Relations Society for the opportunity to speak to you at the beginning of an historic year, with decisions on the next wave of enlargement of both the European Union and NATO.
We hope that Slovenia, which has prepared so well, will be ready to join with the first group of countries.
However, the close friendship between our two countries could be severely tested if we meet in the World Cup! Slovenia’s qualification is a splendid achievement and I extend my congratulations to the country and its team!
Let me start by saying how much I enjoyed the very productive discussions this morning with Prime Minister Drnovsek and Foreign Minister Rupel. It was also a great pleasure to see Mr Bavcar again over lunch. I take this opportunity of wishing him well in his future career. He has been an excellent and wise advocate of Slovenia’s interests in Brussels and elsewhere.
It was also a special privilege to renew my acquaintance with President Kucan, who visited London last month, where I had the honour to host a lunch for him. This was the first time a Slovenian President has visited the UK and it did much to strengthen the close ties between out two countries and to point the way to future co-operation and partnership, including of course within the EU.
These ties are deepening. We bought £275m (or €451m) of each others’ goods in 2000. Major British companies operate in Slovenia including Unilever, Shell and Astra Zeneca. A mission from the London Chamber of Commerce will be visiting in October to follow up on the President’s visit. And increasing numbers of Britons are discovering that this is a beautiful country. 152,000 British tourists visited in 2000. My only regret is that I can afford to spend barely a day here – such is the lot of ministers!
There are two great tasks facing the European Union. The first is to make a success of enlargement. The second is to re-connect the Union with its citizens – and connect with its future citizens – by fashioning a language and an agenda, which is understandable and relevant to them.
You have put yourselves at the top of the list of applicant countries with the closure of 26 of the 29 chapters of the ‘acquis’ – the EU’s main body of law. By setting the pace of the negotiations, you have helped ensure that the timetable, agreed by Members States in Nice, has been followed. Without this, I would be far less confident today of achieving our shared goal that Slovenian citizens should become citizens of the EU in 2004, at the latest.
Britain is a champion of enlargement. Negotiations began under the UK Presidency in 1998. It was Tony Blair, in a speech in October 2000, who called for the first group of new Member States to join the EU in time to participate in the 2004 European Parliament elections. He helped the Swedish Presidency turn this into a clear EU objective at the Gothenburg Council in June last year, confirmed at the Laeken Council last month.
Enlargement is vital for all of us, new and old members alike:
- it will cement the coming together of our continent and provide a lasting basis for peace and prosperity;
- it will boost the economies of new and old Member States, creating 300,000 new jobs in the current Member States and up to 2m in the candidate countries;
- it will give consumers access to a wider range of products at competitive prices in the largest single market in the world with a population of nearly 500m;
- it will allow new and old Member States to work together to tackle a wide range of common problems such as pollution, drug-smuggling, and terrorism
Some of the reforms required for EU membership are painful, but many would be necessary with or without EU enlargement. Reform will not stop with membership. It affects all Member States as they try to keep pace with a changing world.
There is still much to do. The ‘road map’ to enlargement requires negotiations to be concluded with candidates by the end of this year, if the new members are to join in 2004. Some of the most difficult issues lie ahead of us, namely: Agriculture, Regional Policy and the Budget. Both the EU and the candidate countries will have to remain firmly focused and committed.
The candidates will have to keep up their reforms, not only introducing the new laws and systems required for membership, but making them work on the ground. The implementation of Single Market legislation is a particularly important part of this. This requires liberalisation of the candidates' domestic markets, and a level playing field for cross border ownership of companies and businesses.
These is also much to do to strengthen administrative and judicial systems across the board in order to apply the ‘acquis’ effectively. This is not an abstract point. Upon enlargement, UK citizens will depend on your civil servants, judges and customs officials to uphold their rights as EU citizens, ensure the safety of products within the Single Market and control the common external frontiers. And the same applies in reverse.
This is a massive practical task and Britain is determined to help. We are the only EU Member State to have agreed ‘Action Plans’ with each candidate country. These finance a range of bilateral projects designed to support the accession process. With Mr Bavcar, I today launched the second stage of our Action Plan with Slovenia: you will find details on the British Embassy’s website.
The UK has also been involved in 4 projects in Slovenia under the EU’s Twinning Programme: we have advisers working here alongside Slovene experts on labour market and auditing issues.
Through our liaison teams based in the British Embassy, we are co-operating with your police and customs authorities in the fight against drugs, organised crime and people smuggling.
The next wave of enlargement is planned for 2004. But we envisage further waves, and not just for those of the current candidate countries that do not enter in 2004.
The EU has already set up Stabilisation and Association Agreements with countries in the West Balkans, which provide a direct path to membership in the long term.
As the Prime Minister told President Kucan on 10 December, Slovenia’s story is one of tangible success that should serve as a beacon and an example to neighbouring countries in South-East Europe. Slovenia can help with the Europeanisation of these countries, promoting respect for the rights and well-being of minorities. As a leading economic power within the region, Slovenia can help develop functioning market economies.
I also applaud Slovenia’s contribution to the Stability Pact, through imaginative projects as the International Trust Fund for de-mining, and the Centre of Excellence in Public Finance.
We strongly support the aspirations of these nations to join the EU. We intend to support countries like Croatia with Action Plans of practical assistance to help prepare for accession.
But the EU is not some easy panacea for Europe’s problems. Opinion polls and referenda across the EU member states show a consistent pattern of unease among our citizens. The low turnout for the 1999 European Parliament Elections – just 24% in Britain – is a clear warning. Support for the EU has been falling even in the candidate countries.
So, this is an urgent challenge for politicians throughout Europe, in the future Member States as much as in the existing ones. I am a practical European. I want a Europe that works for people; for business people who want a stable business-friendly environment; for parents who want their children to have good jobs and a secure future; for citizens who want cleaner skies and greener environments across the continent.
For people to see the real benefits of the European Union, we need to cut through the jargon and the Euro-speak that makes it hard for them to do so. And it is just as important that the institutions of the EU – the Parliament, the Commission, the Council - do the same. To explain clearly and simply the issues we face in today’s EU, in terms that connect with people’s real concerns.
We need to do this if we are to engage the attention of Europe’s citizens – particularly its citizens of the future. Young people are instinctively pro-European. But ask them about the Council or the Commission or the Parliament and they don’t want to know. They are not necessarily hostile, more ‘not engaged’.
So we need plain language, not Euro-babble, understood only by an elite. We need plain speaking too in the debate now underway on the Future of Europe.
Let’s be honest about Europe’s successes and its failures. The successes are real and immense, but the EU isn’t perfect:
- the language: Euro-speak is impenetrable. That is why we agreed at Nice to look at simplifying the treaties to make them easier to understand.
- the disconnect from national parliaments: we need to involve our national legislatures much more closely in shaping and monitoring EU decisions.
- greater harmonisation for its own sake: More Europe isn’t always the right answer. There are plenty of areas such as taxation where decisions must be taken in capitals, not in Brussels. That is why in Nice we maintained the veto on crucial issues of national sovereignty - such as tax. And why we firmly argue that mutual recognition of standards – for financial services, goods and labour mobility – not harmonisation should lie at the heart of completing the Single Market.
- Introspection: the events of September 11th in the United States have reminded us that the EU isn’t the world. While tinkering with the EU’s institutions may be fascinating, there are bigger challenges out there. Not only the terrorist threat, but also poverty and global warming and much besides;
- Confusion over who does what: few understand the present demarcation of powers between the EU and its member states. That is why the Prime Minister proposed a set of principles, setting out where the EU should act and where action will be left to member states; and why we agreed that this too should be on the agenda for the next inter-governmental conference.
These are some of the issues the Convention, agreed on at Laeken, will need to address. The Convention will meet for its inaugural session on 1 March 2002. This will be the first time that we are consulting the European peoples on what they want for Europe.
And that means you too – the citizens of Slovenia and all the other Candidate Countries. Your and our citizens will have the chance to contribute to the debate. They are the real stakeholders in Europe.
The European Union of today is a success. It has made a difference to all our lives. It has helped bring unparalleled peace and prosperity to our countries. It has allowed Europeans to work together to address the common challenges that we all face: it is through collective action that we can tackle cross-border pollution; if there is to be no hiding place for terrorists, law enforcement must not be constrained by borders. The Union has also brought benefits to individuals: Single Market competition has halved price of air travel to Europe and cut price of international phone calls by up to 80% since 1984; the Parental Leave Directive gives basic employment rights to millions of workers across Europe. The successful launch of the Euro (which Slovenia could join within a few years) will bring huge new practical economic benefits for Europe’s citizens, generating more prosperity.
Our goal is a Europe that keeps on delivering real things for real people.
I believe that delivering jobs, opportunities and prosperity is the best way to convince sceptical citizens of the current and future importance of the EU. Slovenia is already wealthy by the standards of the candidate countries. The EU offers you huge opportunities for doing even better and not just opportunities but practical help, through funds towards the modernisation of your infrastructure and economy.
This practical focus is why we in the British government attach so much importance to the EU’s economic reform agenda. Tony Blair started the ball rolling during our Presidency in 1998. Since then we have helped vigorously to drive the agenda forward.
The Lisbon Summit last year stepped up the pace, setting ambitious targets for the whole of Europe, including making Europe the leading knowledge economy by 2010, an agenda which we are determined must be pushed forward at the Barcelona Summit in March.
Slovenia has one of the fastest growing economies in the world. You have every interest in keeping Europe dynamic and flexible, so that you can derive maximum benefit from the single market. One of the reasons we support enlargement is precisely the new thinking which you and others are bringing to the EU’s decision making.
And the EU needs new thinking:
- New thinking on the economy, to complete the Single Market and the opportunities, which it presents to make Europe more competitive, instead of shying away from reform;
- new thinking on agriculture, to produce a system that is environmentally sound, affordable and fair to our trading partners outside the EU;
- And new thinking on the fight against crime, so that drug dealers and people traffickers cannot exploit the gaps between our national jurisdictions.
Enlargement will reunite our continent and put an end to the divisions of the past and it will position us far better to address the challenges of the new century.
We want a Europe of full employment and of social justice; a Europe that can master the threats to our environment; a Europe of stability and prosperity; a Europe of peace and security; a Europe that guarantees food safety and consumer protection; a Europe of human rights; a Europe of the people, for the people, by the people; a Europe in which Slovenia takes its place proudly as an equal amongst equals.