Mr Chairman, guests, dear friends
The title of the conference poses the question enlargement: more and more a political process?
My answer is - a certain "yes" - and an equally certain "NO".
Every enlargement has had its specific characteristics: but there has always been a mixture of motivations, political, economic and security based.
The first rounds of enlargement concerned Western Europe. This phase was bookended by the economic enlargements of the UK, Ireland and Denmark; and Finland, Sweden and Austria. In between them, the enlargements of Greece, Spain and Portugal were rooted in the consolidation of democracy and the security of Western Europe.
The enlargement to Central Europe was about re-uniting a Europe that was divided in 1945. It was about righting old wrongs in history.
The current round of enlargement also has a security element. It concerns the role of Europe as a global player. It also has a demonstration effect for those in our broader regions as it helps promote our values.
In the current global climate some might question the need or at least the timing of further enlargement. For the process to continue smoothly, three elements are needed.
First, enlargement must be seen to bring the European Union economic benefits.
Second, enlargement must be seen as technically complete,
Third, enlargement must be owned by the member states and understood by their public opinion.
Let me take each point in turn:
First, the Enlargement process certainly enhances security in Europe. It is increasingly important in view of the current economic situation that enlargement is seen to be beneficial to our member states.
Our Enlargement policy does not only seem to be beneficial: It IS beneficial. Enlargement policy is in the strategic interest of the European Union
-It fosters democracy, stability and prosperity in our immediate neighbourhood.
-It helps us achieve our own policy objectives in of areas that are key to economic recovery and sustainable growth: transport, energy, and the environment.
-It broadens and deepens the internal market to the benefit of our exports, investors, consumers, and tourists.
-And perhaps most importantly it is the best response to the challenge of increasing competition in our neighbourhood.
In a rapidly changing world we are competing economically and politically, not just with the US and Russia, but also increasingly with China, India and other large emerging nations. We are competing not just to exert influence, but to ensure that our values are upheld.
Our enlargement policy offers much more than a quick fix. It offers transformation: political, economic and social. It offers justice and a sense of solidarity
Enlargement must be technically rigorous, and there is no doubt that enlargement is increasingly based on a thorough preparation.
The last wave of enlargement saw the Copenhagen criteria elaborated and the division of the acquis into negotiating chapters.
The current enlargement has seen a refinement of this methodology, and an increase in the number of chapters and then opening and closing benchmarks as needed.
All of this has helped to make our policy credible. It is proof that the countries have done what they needed to do.
But even these elements alone are not enough.
Technical work on some areas is often done to a high standard but Member States will not accept anything they perceive as a "fait acompli". Member states need to have ownership; they need to be confident that the work is to their satisfaction, they need to have given a steer to the process.
This is why, based on the experience of Croatia, we have a new approach to Chapters on Judiciary and Fundamental Rights and Justice Freedom and Security.
In future negotiations, we suggest opening these chapters first and closing them last. We should closely monitor and ensure that member states are fully involved. We will therefore be able to guide every country's efforts.
This approach will allow for greater ownership by the member states and in areas where there is no hard acquis, jointly give a steer.
The approach will create the conditions for political guidance not political meddling. Guidance based on the progress in meeting the technical requirements.
Let me conclude on the following point:
Our enlargement process is a transformative process. It gives real durable change, access to justice, respect for fundamental rights, equality and solidarity.
To achieve this, we have a credible policy which mixes incentives and close monitoring, political steering and political ownership.
Ladies and gentlemen,
I have tried to answer the question whether enlargement is more and more political.
The organisers seem to think that I agree. The panel that now follows is entitled "Enlargement: more and more political", but without the question mark.
I only wish that the rest of Europe's politicians were as easily convinced!
Enlargement has always been political because the objectives are political stability and in Europe and a stronger European Union and because, to be successful, the process requires political leadership both in the European Union and in the aspirant countries.
But even if the political will is there, there are no short cuts to membership. The necessary preparations must be made, the country must be ready. With each enlargement we are better able to ensure this.
Mr Chairman, I know this will be the last convention with you in the chair. If I may, I would like to add a few short words of appreciation of your tireless support for EU enlargement.
As Prime Minister of Denmark, you presided over the adoption of the Copenhagen criteria: the birth of our current enlargement method. But even more than this, you have been a passionate, articulate, and a reasoned supporter of enlargement and more broadly a firm believer in the transformative power of EU foreign policy. l remember with great fondness the number of occasions we discussed over a glass of wine or beer often late into the evening how you personally and more generally the broad network of the PES could help and support all we were doing be it in the Western Balkans; be it in Turkey or more recently in our neighbourhood.
During your retirement, I am certain that your wisdom will still be heard and continue to make a difference.
Thank you for your attention.