Rejoining the EU – (2) the Screening Process
In Part 1 of this blog, Dr Paul Bowers looked at an examination of the EU accession process with a look at the criteria that a state needs to fulfil, in order to progress from applicant to candidate status.What happenes then?
Once this has been concluded, the process moves to “screening” the preparedness of the candidate in each chapter of the acquis Communautaire (supporting the principles of the European Community). The Commission indicates to the candidate what legislative and other changes are needed to comply with the acquis. The candidate sets out which elements it accepts, and any on which it requests a transitional arrangement.
The Commission and the candidate state then devise negotiating mandates, the former being agreed by member states meeting in the Council as an inter-governmental conference.
The negotiation part of the process concerns achieving consistency with, and enforcement of, the acquis, the 35 chapters of which are grouped into six headings and addressed sequentially.
The six groups of chapters are “closed” by the member states in the Council, unanimously, on the basis of analysis by the Commission. Closure is provisional until all groups are closed.
Once finished, the negotiated agreement is turned into an Accession Treaty. This embodies conditions of admission, arising from the negotiations, and any adjustments to the Treaties “which such admission entails.” It must be approved by the Commission, the European Parliament and the Council.
Once a treaty is in place, the end is in sight.
The candidate becomes an “acceding country,” benefiting from interim arrangements. It may comment on draft EU proposals, communications and initiatives, and it gains a right to speak, without voting, in EU bodies and agencies.
Further, states signing a treaty undertake thereby not to “defeat the object and purpose” of that treaty, unless they explicitly decide to reject it and not to ratify (Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, 1969, Article 18).
To enter into force the Accession Treaty is ratified by all the parties (the candidate and the existing member states) in accordance with their own constitutional requirements, and approved by national parliaments.
Non-ratification would be realistic only if there were a change of Government in an EU member state, or if a national parliament rejected, since the Council has by this time signed off unanimously each step of the process and the Accession Treaty itself. There would be political costs for a member state doing this.
Accession treaties have provided for limited application in the event that one or more states does not ratify by the planned accession date.
Unanimity is needed from member states throughout, but in general the response to difficulties has been to pause negotiations while the matter is remedied. Outright rejections at the earliest stage were Morocco (not European) and Spain (Fascist at the time). The UK was vetoed twice by France in the 1960s on the basis of economic disparity, in particular in respect of agriculture and de Gaulle’s anxiety that the UK would veto the nascent Common Agricultural Policy. This rejection was reversed in 1972 and the ground no longer applies. The only example of complete derailment after candidacy has been achieved is the extreme case of Turkey, which has lacked political will to join for some time.
Points to note:
- States are not ready to join when they apply
- Early application is normal and prudent; it opens a formal dialogue governing what needs to happen to achieve membership, with milestones if needed
- Accession is not an 11+; the Commission protects EU law and the treaties, but there is no incentive to fail applicants
- Accession is not absolutely uniform. There have been flexibilities and transitions in many cases
- There is no need to converge with EU law in advance of applying for membership. Convergence is the focus of the screening and negotiation phases; this allows the EU to assess whether, within the margin of discretion in its Directives, the candidate’s efforts at convergence suffice. It also allows the parties to agree transitions and milestones.
Dr Paul Bowers is a member of the European Movement National Council and is a former Researcher in the House of Commons Library.
This blog is digested from a longer, more detailed account, which considers arguments about different options such as single market membership.
London4Europe blogs are edited by Nick Hopkinson, Vice-Chair. Articles on this page reflect the views of the author and not necessarily of London4Europe.
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