‘Strict but fair’ enlargement process

Netherlands Institute of International Relations ‘Clingendael’

The Netherlands very much welcomed the agreement reached at the European Council of December 2006 regarding the enlargement strategy based on consolidation, conditionality and communication.
 
Also during the negotiations on the Reform Treaty the Dutch government has insisted that the criteria for future enlargement should be incorporated in a new treaty. Although the implications of the reference to the criteria as included in the final text of the Treaty of Lisbon are debated,[1] the Dutch Parliament has strongly supported this stance on underlining the importance of the Copenhagen criteria.[2]
 
The 2007 strategy document on EU enlargement and its conclusions and recommendations has received general support of the Dutch government. The focus of the strategy document on consolidation, conditionality and communication was particularly well appreciated in The Hague. In a communication on the strategy document to the parliament,[3] the emphasis on conditionality in the strategy document is considered to be in line with the Dutch view on a ‘strict but fair’ enlargement process. The Dutch government has stated to strictly monitor the complete fulfilment of the stated criteria by the candidate countries before a next step can be taken in the enlargement process.[4] There will be special attention to the fulfilment of the political criteria (like democracy, rule of law, human rights and rights of minorities). Furthermore the Dutch government has stated on several occasions that improvement of the objectivity and transparency of the enlargement process is one of the pre-conditions to maintain public support for further enlargement of the EU.[5]
 
Although the conclusions of the strategy document are generally welcomed, observations on improvements in specific countries and conclusions to be drawn from these do differ. With regard to Croatia there is some light between the Commission which perceives the end phase of the negotiations and the Dutch apprehension of naming an accession date. However the different viewpoints are most visible in the case of Serbia, where the conclusions drawn by the Commission are considered too optimistic. In the Dutch perspective reforms have been hampered by the political uncertainty, the lack of unequivocal EU policy and insufficient functioning of the parliament. Moreover the strategy document is considered to not fully take note of the tensed relations between Serbia and its neighbours and the absolute necessity of Serbia’s full cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY).
 
Also in the light of more recent developments the Netherlands has underlined the ICTY conditionality as a focal point in EU-Serbia relations. The Dutch government has expressed its misgivings about the Commission decision to initial the Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) with Serbia in November 2007.[6] With regard to the signing of the SAA, a firm stance is taken on the need to demonstrate full cooperation which is considered to be best demonstrated by tangible results, particularly the arrest and transfer of Ratko Mladic to the ICTY based in The Hague. This position of the Dutch government has received approval in parliament and press.[7] The Netherlands has indicated to strictly separate the issue of signature of the SAA and the Serbian position on the Kosovo.[8]
 
Regarding the future status of Kosovo the Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs Verhagen made headlines during a visit to the area in the summer of 2007, when he was reported to suggest the possibility of dividing Kosovo as a solution for the future status of the republic. This statement was met with ample criticism both internationally and domestically.[9] Mr Verhagen claims his statement had been misinterpreted, as a separation could only be the case if both parties involved would agree on that and such a decision was accepted by the UN (Security Council). On several occasions the Netherlands has stressed the importance of a joint agreement on the future status of Kosovo, which is based on political and legal legitimacy of the UN.[10] However, after the failed round of talks by the Troika an unilateral declaration of independence of Kosovo was anticipated. After the declaration of independence on 17 February 2008 the Netherlands did not immediately recognise this independence. Officially there had first to be investigated whether the declaration and draft constitution adequately protected human rights, including sufficient guarantees for minorities.[11] Moreover an immediate recognition could be viewed upon as a palpable act in favour of independence.[12] On 4 March 2008 the Netherlands has recognised the independence of Kosovo as it concluded ‘sufficient guarantees for Serbs and other minorities’ were provided and considered it a positive sign that the Kosovar government wants to work closely with the International Civil Representative, the Dutchman Pieter Feith.[13] Apart from a press release of the Serb community in the Netherlands, the recognition was generally not contested and received little attention in Dutch media.


[1] See for instance: Bas Limonard and Jan Rood, ‘Uitzicht op einde impasse, van Europese Grondwet naar Hervormingsverdrag’, in: Internationale Spectator, September 2007 61: 9, p. 407.

[2] Debat Europese Grondwet, Tweede Kamer, vergaderjaar 2006–2007, 21 501-20, nr. 71, 23 May 2007; and Verslag van een Algemeen Overleg over de brief van de minister van Buitenlandse Zaken en de staatssecretaris voor Europese Zaken d.d. 19 maart inzake EU-verdragswijziging, Tweede Kamer, vergaderjaar 2006–2007, 21 501-20, nr. 348, 17 April 2007.

[3] Appreciatie van het kabinet van het jaarlijkse uitbreidingspakket van de Europese Commissie, Brief van de Minister en Staatssecretaris van Buitenlandse Zaken, Tweede Kamer, vergaderjaar 2007-2008, 23 987, nr. 74, 30 November 2007.

[4] Staat van de Europese Unie 2007-2008, Brief van de Minister en Staatssecretaris van Buitenlandse Zaken, Tweede Kamer, vergaderjaar 2007-2008, 31 202, nrs. 1-2, 18 September 2007.

[5] Appreciatie van het kabinet van het jaarlijkse uitbreidingspakket van de Europese Commissie, Brief van de Minister en Staatssecretaris van Buitenlandse Zaken, Tweede Kamer, vergaderjaar 2007-2008, 23 987, nr. 74, 30 November 2007; and Staat van de Europese Unie 2007-2008, Brief van de Minister en Staatssecretaris van Buitenlandse Zaken, Tweede Kamer, vergaderjaar 2007-2008, 31 202, nrs. 1-2, 18 September 2007.

[6] Verslag Algemeen Overleg, Tweede Kamer, vergaderjaar 2007-2008, 21 501-02 and 22 112, nr. 785, 14 November 2007.

[7] Vragen van de leden Ten Broeke en Van Baalen (beiden VVD) aan de minister van Buitenlandse Zaken over uitlatingen van het Sloveense EU-voorzitterschap inzake Servië en Turkije, Tweede Kamer, vergaderjaar 2007-2008, vraagnr. 2070808170, 11 January 2007; and ‘Nederland blokkeert Servië’, in: NRC Handelsblad, 10 December 2007.

[8] Verslag Algemeen Overleg, Tweede Kamer, vergaderjaar 2007-2008, 21 501-02 and 22 112, nr. 785, 14 November 2007; and Verslag Europese Raad, Tweede Kamer, vergaderjaar 2007-2008, 21 501-02, nr. 377, 14 December 2007.

[9] ‘EU neemt afstand van Verhagen’, in: NRC Handelsblad, 6 September 2007.

[10] See for instance: Geannoteerde agenda van de Informele Raad Algemene Zaken en Externe Betrekkingen («Gymnich») van 7 en 8 september 2007, Tweede Kamer, vergaderjaar 2006–2007, 21 501-02, nr. 766, 3 September 2007.

[11] Press release of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on 4 March 2008, source: http://www.minbuza.nl/en/news/newsflashes,2008/03/The-Netherlands-recogn... (last access: 07.03.2008).

[12] ‘Nederland erkent onafhankelijkheid Kosovo’, in: NRC Handelsblad, 4 March 2008.

[13] Press release of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on 4 March 2008, source: http://www.minbuza.nl/en/news/newsflashes,2008/03/The-Netherlands-recogn... (last access: 07.03.2008).