Interview with MEP Elmar Brok, member of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU)
We will not make any exceptions, including for Iceland
By Joanna Sopinska | Thursday 30 April 2009
Elmar Brok (EPP-ED, Germany), a vigorous supporter of the ‘big bang’ enlargement of 2004, is now campaigning in favour of a freeze of the EU’s expansion until after the Union finalises its internal reforms. He argues that without the Lisbon Treaty being fully ratified, the EU should not accept any new applications for membership, including from the Western Balkan countries and Iceland, and predicts that many member states are ready to positively respond to Berlin’s call for a total freeze on enlargement.
Could you specify what the CDU means in its manifesto for the June European elections by calling for internal consolidation to take priority over further enlargement?
It means that before further enlargement, with the exception of Croatia, the EU must become effective. The integration capacity of the European Union must be increased. The present European Union is not able to enlarge because of the danger of overstretching.
Does this mean that there is need for the Lisbon Treaty to be ratified and put into force before any other country aside from Croatia is admitted to the EU?
What would happen if the Lisbon Treaty is not ratified?
Then we should stop to enlarge.
How long such a break should last?
Until after the European Union upgrades its integration capacity.
Are you calling for a total freeze?
Yes. If the Czech Republic and Ireland do not ratify the Lisbon Treaty, the EU would not be able to take more countries on board.
Does it mean that the EU should not accept any new applications for membership?
Which countries could follow the CDU’s call for a break in enlargement?
There are many countries that could follow, especially if the Lisbon Treaty is not ratified. One of them is France, but also Austria. There are many countries that do not admit it publicly but are in favour of a break.
Aren’t you afraid that a total freeze on enlargement could cause instability in the Western Balkans – a region whose progress depends so much on the European perspective?
Most of these countries still need a long time before becoming ready for accession. We can continue negotiating a pre-accession strategy for them so there is no break in the process of their approximation to the EU standards. On the other hand, these countries should address their grief over a break in enlargement to Prague and Dublin. The entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty is a sine qua non condition for the last round of enlargement. Now we still work under conditions set for the fifteen members of the European Union. It is part of the Copenhagen criteria that both the applicant country and the European Union must be ready for further enlargement. The European Union should show the ability to reform before admitting any new members.
What would happen to Iceland if it decided to apply for EU membership before the Lisbon Treaty is successfully ratified?
We will not make any exceptions, including for Iceland.
On a more general note, what is the most likely scenario for the Western Balkans? Do you expect all seven countries to be admitted to the EU within the next ten years?
It depends on whether they will be able to meet certain conditions during the next years.
The member states will soon start to discuss the next financial perspective. Do you think that the accession of the Western Balkan states should be envisaged in this document?
I believe it should be taken into account.
Turning to Turkey, the CDU manifesto proposes ‘privileged partnership’ instead of full membership to be offered to Ankara. What added value would such a relationship have for Turkey and the EU?
First of all, Turkey is one of the most important strategic countries for the EU. So, the EU’s interest in maintaining a close relationship with Turkey is obvious. Secondly, I have my doubts whether Turkey will be able to meet the political and economic conditions for membership, especially in such fields as home affairs, the justice system, freedom of speech and religion. Therefore I believe that Turkey should be offered a Norway-style status. Norway is part of the EU’s internal market and the Schengen zone. Such a status is reachable in a relatively short time. It could bring progress to Turkey and at the same time strengthen its relations with the EU.
But obviously Turkey aspires for full membership. Aren’t you afraid that if not granted such status, Ankara might turn its back on the EU?
Turkey does not meet the Copenhagen criteria. That is obvious. The negotiation mandate adopted by the Council says that the aim of the talks is full membership. The same document, however, says that in case of problems in negotiations, full membership should be replaced by the highest possible binding agreement between the EU and Turkey.