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EU: European Parliament Cools On Membership Hopes Of Neighboring Countries

(CTK) A debate on the EU's European Neighborhood Policy (ENP) in the European Parliament in Strasbourg on 18 January indicated that enthusiasm for further EU enlargement is on the wane. Traditionally a strong supporter of further enlargement, the parliament now seems to be aiming lower.

BRUSSELS, 19 January 2006 (RFE/RL) -- The shift of mood in the European Parliament is tangible.

That was the message after a debate about a recent parliament report on neighborhood policy.

Barely a year ago, the parliament threw down a challenge to the European Commission and the member states by adopting a declaration demanding a clear membership perspective for Ukraine. Other hopefuls, such as Moldova and the Caucasus countries, also found encouragement in the parliament's stance.

Now, the parliament seems barely prepared to recognize that some of the EU's neighbors may at some point have the right to membership. And few are willing to discuss the details.

The author of the parliament's report debated on 18 January, Charles Tannock, stressed that the neighborhood policy is not an alternative to membership: "I do not consider the ENP a fixed long-term alternative to full EU membership for those democratic European countries entitled to apply and which have expressed the desire to do so, such as Ukraine and Moldova. And the report goes some of the way towards recognizing their European aspirations."

Such words will be little cause for hope for those countries wanting to join the union (EU). The EU's basic treaties currently in force already recognize the right of "any European country" to apply for membership -- without offering a definition of "Europe."

Enlargement On Hold

All of the bigger political groups in the European Parliament have made clear that they do not think further enlargement is an issue for the foreseeable future.

Elmar Brok, head of the parliament's foreign affairs committee, who spoke on behalf of the largest, right-wing People's Party faction, even went so far as to said the EU must find other ways to promote reforms than offering membership. He said this observation may also apply to those Balkan countries that do not yet have candidate status.

The countries taking part in the ENP range from Morocco to Ukraine, and include Moldova and the countries of the Caucasus.

Instead, the parliament now appears keen to focus on using the ENP as efficiently as possible to promote reforms. The report authored by Charles Tannock, to be put to the vote today, says the EU must be ready to suspend or cut aid and cancel cooperation agreements with countries that violate EU standards of human rights, democracy, and the rule of law.

The EU external relations commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner backed this approach in her address on 18 January. She said EU neighbors must "deliver" to earn privileges from the EU.

Project Participation

In the medium term, the EU is offering its more qualified neighbors participation in some projects and policies. Ferrero-Waldner said the first such moves may take place as early as next year: "We will also open certain programs and agencies to EN partners, so start negotiations for instance on agricultural and fishery products for Mediterranean partners [in North Africa], work on visa facilitation issues with Ukraine and Moldova, for Ukraine there is already the mandate [from the EU member states]."

The EU itself is very keen on close cooperation in the fields of immigration, the fight against organized crime, and terrorism.

From 2007 onwards, the EU will have a dedicated budget for its neighborhood policy. This should make it easier for it to apply carrot and stick policies.

The parliament's report makes a series of specific demands and recommendations. It says progress must be made "on the opening of Turkey's border with Armenia."

And Romania and Ukraine are told to resolve their territorial dispute in the Black Sea.

The report also calls on the EU member states and the European Commission to increase their support for civil society and opposition in Belarus, and enlist Russian cooperation .

It also urges Armenia and Azerbaijan to work towards a settlement of the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh and urges Armenia to permit the gradual return of refugees to the occupied territories. The report also proposes a "European stability pact for" the South Caucasus, involving the EU, Russia, the United States, and the United Nations.

Tannock, the report's author, also said the EU should extend the ENP to Central Asia: "In contrast, other former Central Asian Soviet states such as Kazakhstan, although currently not part of the ENP, the EU should give serious consideration, in my view, when their [Partnership and Cooperation Agreements] eventually expire to extending [them the] right to participate in this ambitious project."

If included, Central Asian countries would in the longer term become eligible for free trade with the EU, closer foreign policy cooperation, and participation in EU programs dealing with culture, education, youth, the information society, the environment, research, and science.

EU Expands Eastward

EU Expands Eastward

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