‘Enlargement process as occasion for the EU to reinvent and reform itself’

MEP David McAllister chairing the AFET Committee during the vote on EU-US relations in the AFET Committee meeting of 28 June 2018 Source: EP

The ECA reports on EU Pre-accession Aid are of particular interest to EP’s Committee on Foreign Affairs (AFET). What does AFET do with ECA reports on this topic and what are an MEP’s view on the enlargement process? David McAllister, Chair of the AFET Committee, gives his perspectives on the work of his committee, the enlargement process and the use that the EP can make of ECA audit reports. And he also shares his views on the looming UK withdrawal from the EU

By Gaston Moonen, Directorate of the ECA Presidency

Your political roots have been in local and regional government. Can you elaborate on your specific interest in international relations, what is your drive for that?

I grew up in West-Berlin as the son of a German mother and a father who was a civil servant in the British Military. Thus, my life was affected by foreign politics, especially by the conflict between East and West, at an early age. As a young politician, foreign relations have regularly crossed my path. Later on, as Prime Minister of Niedersachsen, European Affairs and international politics had a major impact on my work.

… the EU will account for only 5% of the world population in the 2050 horizon, compared to 13% in 1960. No single EU Member State can effectively respond to global challenges on its own.

In a broader context and from the EU’s point of view, foreign relations are becoming more important by the day. The EU’s security environment is more volatile, unpredictable, complex and ambiguous than at any time since the end of the Cold War. Projections anticipate that the EU will account for only 5% of the world population in the 2050 horizon, compared to 13% in 1960. No single EU Member State can effectively respond to global challenges on its own. It is high time to implement our Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) tools, instruments and policies to enable the EU to respond to external conflicts and crises, build partners’ capacities and protect the European Union.

You are also active in the Delegation to the EU-Serbia Stabilisation and Association Parliamentary Committee (SAPC). How does this help you in your position towards the candidate countries of the Balkan countries as far as EU accession is concerned?

The SAPC meets twice a year and I always find the exchange with our Serbian counterparts particularly enriching. But the delegation’s work goes beyond these bi-annual meetings. The delegation is actively engaged in the enlargement process and puts a special focus on helping Serbia on its ambitious path towards the European Union.

Earlier this year the ECA published its special report 7/2018 on pre-accession aid to Turkey and in 2016 it published a meta audit report concerning the Western Balkans — special report 21/2016. Were these reports useful for the activities and deliberations for AFET, what did AFET do with them?

The ECA reports were very useful for our work indeed, as they provided evidence as to what works and what doesn’t in our cooperation with Turkey and the Western Balkans, as well as concrete suggestions for improving it. The reports featured prominently in the Strategic Dialogue between the European Parliament and the Commission/EEAS on the programming of IPA II funds for the second half of the current multi-annual financial framework that took place in March this year. The findings have also been used in the context of AFET’s annual reports on the enlargement countries.

The ECA reports were very useful for our work indeed, as they provided evidence as to what works and what doesn’t in our cooperation with Turkey and the Western Balkans, as well as concrete suggestions for improving it.

What would you consider to be useful topics to be audited by the ECA and useful for AFET’s work?

The reports by the ECA are already very useful for our work in AFET. Especially the audits that concern the enlargement countries. Our focus in the Committee is on the Western Balkan countries and the ‘wider’ neighbourhood in geographic terms. As regards thematic priorities, AFET and its sub-committees deal with a wide range of issues, such as the promotion of democracy and human rights, security and defence and migration. Every audit that touches upon these topics is of interest for our work.

Increasingly the ECA present its reports in meetings of specialised EP Committees, like DEVE, ITRE or REGI, besides presenting them to CONT. Would you think this to be useful also for AFET?

Presentations of specific reports in AFET could be very useful to increase our Member’s awareness of the ECA’s findings and enable them to engage directly with the ECA on the issues at hand.

I share the report’s recommendation to make stronger use of conditionality in the funding for Turkey.

In its special report 7/2018 on Turkey the ECA has raised some observations to the lack of sustainable effects of EU aid on administrative capacity building in Turkey, due to a lack of political will. What do you think of this main conclusion and which actions do you think the EU can undertake to improve this, to leverage its influence to improve the situation in Turkey?

The view that the lack of political will has had detrimental effects on the effectiveness of EU assistance in critical areas such as administrative capacity building, rule of law and fundamental rights is widely shared in the Foreign Affairs Committee. I share the report’s recommendation to make stronger use of conditionality in the funding for Turkey. In addition, I think it is important to continue with the increased focus on supporting Turkish civil society.

Presentations of specific reports in AFET could be very useful to increase our Member’s awareness of the ECA’s findings and enable them to engage directly with the ECA on the issues at hand.

As AFET Chair you also contribute to the Conference of Committee Chairs providing suggestions to the ECA on its work programme. How can the ECA help MEPs in the policy-decision making process regarding future enlargements and EU external actions as such?

The European Court of Auditors reports are already very valuable for our daily work. EU financial management and the promotion of accountability and transparency are of utmost importance especially in the enlargement policy. A country that is unable to use EU funds in accordance with the relevant EU rules and regulations is not ready to join our Union.

A country that is unable to use EU funds in accordance with the relevant EU rules and regulations is not ready to join our Union.

A country that is unable to use EU funds in accordance with the relevant EU rules and regulations is not ready to join our Union.

Where do you see the pre-accession process going for the near future, also in view some countries objecting further enlargement, even though the European Commission President Juncker has suggested that Serbia and Montenegro will be ready to join in the next few years?

While some talk of ‘enlargement fatigue’, I see a renewed focus and understanding of the strategic importance of the enlargement process among European decision-makers. The upcoming years are decisive for the future of the Western Balkans and that of the EU itself. The enlargement process is an occasion for the EU to reinvent and reform itself. Enlargement is a democratic process that has no fixed dates — it is based on efforts and progress, and a once frontrunner can turn into a laggard or the other way round.

I share the report’s recommendation to make stronger use of conditionality in the funding for Turkey.

The enlargement process is an occasion for the EU to reinvent and reform itself.

A historical reconciliatory breakthrough and progress demonstrated by FYROM along with immense reform efforts by Albania are paving the way to opening accession negotiations with them next year. I do trust that Montenegro and Serbia will redouble their reform efforts and the remaining countries will advance on the reconciliation and reform path. As the renewed EU engagement brings tangible benefits to the citizens of the future EU members, we must do more to communicate the good work of the EU in the Western Balkans and to better explain the benefits of years. Although we have seen some positive signals in the last few weeks, the rhetoric needs to be underpinned by concrete measures in order to allow us to get out of the current deadlock.

Being from German and Scottish origin you are, like many Europeans, a European with more than one nationality, or at least influenced by different environments. What are your views on the current Brexit process and what does it mean for you?

Brexit is a historic mistake! It will have severe consequences for the British people and for its economy. However, we have to respect this sovereign decision. The task is now to organise the disentanglement of the UK from the EU’s institutions and policies, and to agree on a new partnership. The United Kingdom has been an EU member for 45 years. We share common values and have a number of common interests. As a member of NATO, the G7 and the UN Security Council, the UK should remain an important economic, political and strategic partner of the EU.

Brexit is a historic mistake! It will have severe consequences for the British people and for its economy.

This article was first published on the August-September 2018 issue of the ECA Journal. The contents of the interviews and the articles are the sole responsibility of the interviewees and authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the European Court of Auditors.

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