KEY ACTORS IN THE ACCESSION NEGOTIATION PROCESS
The key actors involved in the accession process are the European Union (EU) institutions, Member States and candidate countries assuming different roles and carrying out tasks, which interact with and complement each other. Political and strategic decisions are taken at the Intergovernmental Conference (IGC), which consists of foreign ministers of Member States and candidate countries.
The European Commission is responsible for conducting relations with candidate countries throughout the accession process, carrying out the screening process in close cooperation with the bureaucrats of the candidate countries, preparing the Accession Partnership Documents, providing the necessary documents for the EU Council, the coordination of the technical issues in relation to the negotiations and drafting the necessary legal documents. The Commission, when deemed necessary, may establish informal contacts with the candidate country officials and present recommendations to facilitate the implementation of the acquis in the candidate country. Also, the Commission acts as a bridge between the candidate countries and the Member States and generally establishes contacts with the Member States to ensure that demands of the candidate countries are taken into account and their interests are safeguarded. Behind-the-scenes work is conducted to a large extent by the Commission. In this respect, the Commission puts much effort into reaching consensus between candidate countries and Member States through bilateral meetings, exchange of opinions and documents, and aims to reduce the number of issues that are likely to be debated in Brussels.
Another assigned task of the Commission in this process is to draft the EU negotiating position documents with the contribution of the EU Presidency. Additionally, the Commission, by presenting the annual progress reports, evaluates the progress made by each candidate country in terms of alignment with the EU acquis and assesses whether the assumed obligations are fulfilled.
The European Council and the Intergovernmental Conference (IGC): The accession negotiations are of a complex nature, which can be defined both multilateral and bilateral as well as intergovernmental. The negotiations that take place between EU Member States and the candidate country are distinctly intergovernmental, but at the same time bilateral owing to the fact that they are carried out between the candidate country and the Union. On the other hand, multilateral talks are only carried out in the meetings scheduled at the beginning of the screening stage, whereby the Commission presents EU acquis to all the candidate countries and consequently the screening process continues between the Commission and the individual candidate country.
The negotiations are conducted at two levels. Following the decision to start negotiations, an Intergovernmental Conference is organised for each candidate country. Main positions and strategies are set out and political issues are handled at the Intergovernmental Conferences, which take place with the participation of foreign ministers of Member States and candidate countries. The “real” negotiations conducted at the technical level occur between the Committee of Permanent Representatives of EU Member States (COREPER) and the negotiation teams headed by the chief negotiator of the candidate country.
The IGC is the platform where all issues related to enlargement process are addressed and decided upon. As such, it is the main instrument of political dialogue between candidate countries and Member States in the negotiations. In this framework, the IGC presents the opportunity for the candidate countries and Member States to voice their opinions and problems concerning the negotiations and also to discuss those. Since the IGC by its very nature is a platform, where views as many and as diverse as the participants themselves can be expressed and also the political dimension of the negotiations is discussed at the IGC, this renders it difficult.
Furthermore, decisions concerning the start of the negotiation process, the opening and provisional closure of the chapters are taken at the IGC unanimously.
Common draft positions of Member States prepared by the Commission are first discussed in the Enlargement Working Group of the Council, which are then submitted to the Council for final approval. The foreign minister or the permanent representative of the country holding the EU presidency conducts the negotiations and the Council Secretariat provides the secretarial services.
The European Parliament (EP) participates in this process by adopting positions and submitting opinions through specific reports prepared for candidate countries. Since EP is also responsible for the approval of the EU budget, it assumes an important role in the financial aspect of the enlargement. EP approves the Accession Treaty with simple majority voting in the last stage. The European Commission ensures that the Parliament closely monitors this process by keeping it informed at all stages of the negotiations.
The Member States are represented at the Intergovernmental Conference, where major political decisions are taken by their foreign ministers and in the technical negotiations by their permanent representatives to the EU. The Member States establish the necessary administrative and institutional structures for the negotiations process and carry out the relevant work on each acquis chapter. In consultation with the opposition parties, local administrations, social parties and the non-governmental organisations, they finalise the draft negotiating positions and reflect their opinions to the process through their permanent representatives in Brussels. The common positions based on the Commission recommendations and shaped by the contribution of the Member States are adopted with unanimity at the General Affairs and External Relations Council of the EU, which consists of foreign affairs ministers. The Member States assume critical role through the Intergovernmental Conference, where political decisions such as opening and closing of negotiation chapters are taken unanimously, and sign the Accession Treaty at the final stage.
On the other hand, the national parliaments of the Member States closely monitor the enlargement process through the committees set up for this purpose and becomes involved in the process through the reports. Consequently, they approve the Accession Treaty once the negotiations are concluded and the consent of the European Parliament and the Council is obtained.
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