Written Answers. - EU Membership.

Michael Creed

Question:

19 Mr. Creed asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the timeframe and front-runner candidates for EU membership at the next stage of enlargement. [25477/99]

As the Deputy will be aware, the current accession process was launched by the 15 EU member states, the ten central and eastern European states and Cyprus on 30 March 1998. The following day actual negotiations were inaugurated with the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Poland, Slovenia and Cyprus. These countries are often referred to as the "ins" or "5+1". Negotiations have continued with these countries since then on a policy chapter basis.

At the same time, a preparatory process for negotiations has continued with the other original applicants, the so-called "pre-ins"– Bulgaria, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, and Slovakia. Malta, joined this group in 1999.

The recent composite report of the Commission recommends that the Helsinki European Council extend negotiations to the pre-ins group in the new year. Thus the negotiation process would be extended to 12 countries. Ireland supports that recommendation. We also support the commission proposal that the negotiation process be modified somewhat to allow for differentiation. This would take account of each candidate's progress in preparing for membership when deciding which negotiation chapters would be opened and proceeded with by each country.

As regards timeframe, we agree with the view that primary importance must be attached to the negotiation process. The success of that process will dictate the timing of accessions. However, it would be reasonable, as the Commission suggests, that the EU commit itself to being able to decide from 2002 on the accession of candidate countries which fulfil all the necessary criteria.