A New Framework for Relations with our Eastern and Southern Neighbours
Mr President, I should first like to say that Mrs Napoletano´s report is quite excellent, not only because she is a member of my group, but also because she has put a great deal of work into the report.
I am also delighted that Commissioner Verheugen has taken over the wider Europe dossier, because I am convinced that he will oversee it just as successfully as he did enlargement itself.
The Commissioner touched on a key issue, namely how we should treat the candidate countries in this strategy, the countries that have a prospect of membership. I understand his fears. Nevertheless, I am convinced that the wording that we have chosen is right, and we can certainly continue to work on this.
This House is divided into three distinct camps on this issue. There are those who say that this is our golden opportunity to bid a permanent, or at least prolonged, farewell to Turkey and perhaps also the Balkan countries as candidates and to push them into a different category. And there is the Commissioner´s proposal to leave them out of this initiative.
Mrs Napoletano´s report, that we adopted by a majority in the committee – we will of course see what the result of the vote is here in the House tomorrow – rules out neither one nor the other. I understand what the Commissioner said, but we do not know what will be decided in 2004. If, for example, we do not open negotiations with Turkey, then it would be in a different, perhaps even worse position than other countries, with whom we would be reinforcing the wider Europe concept of building good relations with our neighbours.
In the Balkans, which, like Turkey, I know very well, we have countries with whom we are not going to be able to talk about membership for years to come. If, obviously on the basis of the Commission´s work, we can together give Croatia a clear signal that we can negotiate – and I hope we can – then we are actually saying to all of the Balkan countries: there is nothing stopping you joining the European Union if you meet the same conditions as Croatia.
In the meantime, I think it would be very sensible – and this also supports Mrs Napoletano – for us to involve them in this initiative. It may be possible to create a special status precisely for those countries that have definite membership prospects, so as to make it clear to them that the one does not exclude the other. I fully support Mrs Napoletano´s report, as it stands.