‘Community agencies: partners in accession’

Role of Community agencies in EU enlargement process reinforced

With the Lisbon Treaty entering into force on 1 December, the issue of EU institutional reform now moves to the sidelines, offering the chance for EU enlargement to move to centre stage. This was among the opening declarations at the conference ‘Community agencies: partners in accession’, hosted this week by the Lisbon-based EU drugs agency (EMCDDA) in Sintra. Organised at the initiative of the European Commission, the event brought together some 150 participants from the EU Member States as well as candidate and potential candidate countries to the EU (1).

In the context of EU enlargement, the conference set out to nurture partnerships between the European Community agencies and countries participating in the Commission’s Instrument of Pre-accession Assistance (IPA) programme. It is through the IPA programme that would-be EU members receive funding and support to prepare for accession.

High-level representatives of the European Commission included Zoltán Kazatsay, Deputy Director-General at the Directorate-General for Energy and Transport, who explained the role of the Community agencies within the EU institutional framework. He referred to the ongoing dialogue between the Commission, Parliament and Council on the way forward for the agencies (2). Aurel Ciobanu-Dordea, Director for Fundamental Rights and Citizenship at the Directorate-General for Justice, Freedom and Security explored the challenges and perspectives of EU governance and enlargement. Yngve Engstroem, Head of unit for regional programmes at the Directorate-General for Enlargement presented mid-term perspectives for cooperation.

Working together for the benefit of EU citizens

From Stockholm to Cologne and from Lisbon to Dublin, the EU agencies provide service, information and know-how to the EU Member States and their citizens. They are involved in many and varied activities, from improving the environment and protecting health to contributing to food safety and supporting education and training. Since 1997, the Community agencies have been working with candidate countries on technical assistance projects in such fields, in preparation for EU membership. And since 2003, possibilities for collaboration have been extended to the Western Balkans (3).

‘Once countries join the EU, they are automatically required to participate in the work of the agencies’, explains EMCDDA Director Wolfgang Götz. ‘This is why aspiring EU members are encouraged to play an active role in the work of the agencies before entering the Union to ensure that they are fully operational in the specific field at the moment of accession. Partnerships between agencies and the candidate and potential candidate countries to the EU, such as those discussed at this conference, are vital for institution-building and the transfer of know-how and for nurturing valuable and durable relationships based on understanding and trust’.

Mr Götz illustrated how partnership projects between the EMCDDA and candidate countries had facilitated the development of national drug monitoring systems and centres in countries joining the Union in 2004 and 2007.  This has resulted in a European drug monitoring system today encompassing all 27 EU Member States and Norway, as well as candidate countries Croatia and Turkey.

Closing today in Sintra, the conference described how countries can become members of the Community agencies and debated how technical assistance projects can be further enhanced. Speakers from Poland, Turkey and Bosnia-Herzegovina presented the experiences of a former, current and potential EU candidate country in cooperating with the agencies. The Turkish delegate explained how the country’s Ministry of Health had increased its level of preparedness regarding influenza, following its cooperation with the Stockholm-based EU agency, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC).

Four working groups focused on the themes of: transport; health; environment and agriculture; and living and working conditions. These reflected on lessons learned from technical assistance projects to date (e.g. key elements of success, how problems were resolved) and future prospects (e.g. new technical assistance projects, expectations, making cooperation more fruitful and efficient).

Countries aspiring to EU membership must not only ‘talk the talk’, but must also ‘walk the walk’, putting theory into practice, said David Phinnemore of Queen’s University, Belfast. He stressed that cooperation and partnership were vitally important to increase knowledge and know-how, boost trust and reputation and build contacts. Referring to EU membership as a mere ‘moment’ in the process of EU integration, he stressed that long-lasting partnerships were crucial to ensuring a continually successful EU integration process.

Conference recommendations

Community agencies should:

  • strengthen the management, design and implementation of projects via more realistic needs’ assessment and the planning of activities with the countries;
  • ensure that projects are more flexible in adapting to the changing reality of countries;
  • ensure that cooperation with the countries is more visible and that information is disseminated at national level on the EU agenda and activities;
  • continue to integrate and associate national experts in relevant working groups and technical meetings so as to facilitate the ‘learning by doing’ process.   

Candidate and potential candidate countries should:

  • have one national policy, strategy and structure at sectorial level to support and monitor cooperation with the Community agencies;
  • strengthen the coordination of stakeholders at national level and further support the role of the IPA national coordinating body, so as to guarantee the political responsibility for cooperation.
  • establish consolidated management structures, at least at Ministerial level, so that they can fully benefit from technical assistance and ensure that the national counterparts have the required mandate and level of competence.

European Commission should:

  • strengthen the coordination mechanisms and the communication flow between the different EU services and institutions, in order to ensure that activities complement each other and are supported by all EU bodies;
  • integrate in its medium- and long-term perspectives the need for the countries to have more time and resources to fully benefit from their participation in Community agencies;
  • maintain a realistic approach in its contracting procedures and its expectations towards the Community agencies so as to ensure that the technical assistance projects can really meet the needs of the partner countries.

For further details see conference web page.

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