Candidate Countries and the Institutional Reform of the European Union
AbstractAlthough they were not formal participants in the 2000 Intergovernmental Conference (IGC), the candidate states for EU membership were greatly interested in its outcome. This article examines the views of the candidate states on the institutional issues discussed at the IGC and their efforts to influence the final agreement achieved at the December 2000 Nice summit. It also examines the impact of the Nice agreement on the interests of the candidate states as future EU members.
For the most part the positions of the candidate states on the IGC issues were similar, with the main difference being between Poland and the other candidate states on the issue of voting weights in the Council. In this regard, division among the candidate states reflected the cleavage between large and small member states in the EU. A key issue for all the candidate states was the retention of the right for each member state to have a national on the Commission. The views of the candidate states were expressed in position letters that they were invited to submit by the EU, and throughout the IGC the candidate states were kept informed of IGC developments by the EU presidency. At the Nice summit, the interests of the candidate states were represented mainly by the Commission and some sympathetic member state governments.
From the perspective of the candidate states, the most important result of the Nice summit is that it brought the IGC to a successful conclusion, thereby clearing the way for enlargement to proceed. The institutional changes agreed to at Nice will also affect the future position and interests of candidate countries as member states. A less effective EU, because of the minimalist extension of qualified majority voting and a raised threshold for qualified majority decisions, when combined with the new provisions for enhanced cooperation, could work against the new member states as frustrated and more federalist members seek to press ahead with further integration. The Nice agreement, including decisions on the size and composition of the Commission and the distribution of Council votes and seats in the European Parliament, will also affect popular perceptions of the EU in the candidate states, and thus the level of popular support for accession in these countries. The candidate states all hope to play a key role in the post-Nice debate on the future of the EU, and to participate in the 2004 IGC on institutional reform called for by the Nice summit, preferably as full EU members.
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