The final approval of the Lisbon Treaty opens the door to the European Union again. Many obstacles to further enlargement remain, but there has been significant progress during the Swedish Presidency.
At a ceremony in Stockholm this week, the Croatian and Slovenian Prime Ministers signed an arbitration agreement on the border dispute between the two countries. Slovenia lifted its blockage of Croatia´s accession negotiations at the end of September. As a consequence, enlargement negotiations with Croatia now move forward at full speed.
The Presidency is careful not to take credit for the breakthrough, instead praising the political leadership of Croatia and Slovenia. However, behind the scenes there have been intense efforts to solve the border issue both by enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn and by the Swedish Presidency. Carl Bildt´s statement on the eve of the Presidency was carefully crafted to put pressure on both sides. Croatia´s ambassador to France acknowledged the role of the EU and the US recently in an interview with Euractiv.
This week´s border agreement is not the end of the story. While Croatia´s Prime Minister Jadranka Kosor is saying that she will send the agreement to Parliament next week, her Slovenian colleague Borut Pahor is advocating an advisory referendum before ratification. But there will be significant progress in negotiations during the coming weeks. Sweden will be able to close a large number of negotiation chapters before the end of the year.
Iceland might well accede at the same time as Croatia. The Swedish Presidency skillfully achieved an agreement already at the Foreign Ministers´ meeting in end July to ask the Commission to prepare the opinion on Iceland´s membership. Another country at the helm might not have been as motivated to navigate the difficult waters of the economic compensation from Iceland to bank customers in the UK and the Netherlands. Sweden was able to prevent this question from delaying Iceland´s accession process.
Now the European Council in December is likely to agree that Iceland should be able to start accession negotiations early next year. Whether the Icelanders in the end will vote yes to membership is another story.
There has also been progress on the membership bids of Macedonia and Serbia, while Turkey remains a difficult issue and Cyprus is a cause of big concerns for the Swedes. The `big bang´ breakthrough of the first Swedish Presidency in 2001 will not be repeated.
Ratification of the accession treaties might become more difficult next time, with all the add-ons to the Lisbon Treaty that are supposed to be annexed to the treaties, and with a possible conservative government in the UK (Tony Barber writes well about the opt-outs on his FT Brussels Blog). Friends of enlargement should try to decouple the opt-outs from the ratification of the accession treaties.
Still, enlargement could be the success story Fredrik Reinfeldt badly needs, with failure on climate approaching.
But most of the credit should go to Carl Bildt and Olli Rehn.
A short note on the new posts in the Lisbon Treaty: I played a small role once during discussions on a Swedish Commissioner. My experience is that nothing is decided until very late in the process. I guess this is true for the two new posts as well. While it is fun to speculate, and others might have better sources when making their assessments, personally I will wait until more first-hand information is available. Maybe we will know more by tomorrow evening, after talks at the celebrations in Berlin.
One question, though. Is Michel Barnier really going to get the internal market portfolio in the new Commission? Earlier, I thought it would be too provocative to give this post to a Frenchman (don´t get me wrong, Barnier is very skilled, but politically it seems difficult). However, Barroso´s recent appointment of Mario Monti as an independent expert on the development of the internal market looks like a compensatory measure to fence off criticism when Barnier is appointed.