This week the EU's 15 Heads of state and government from the current Member States and the leaders of the 13 candidate countries meet in Copenhagen. We meet with a clear task--to decide on enlargement of the EU.
We will finish a process that began almost ten years ago at another Summit in Copenhagen. In 1993, the EU took the first step towards integrating the new democracies of Central and Eastern Europe into the EU. Now we are ready to conclude negotiations with the first new Member States.
From "Copenhagen to Copenhagen" has thus been the motto of the Danish EU Presidency. It is the expression of a contribution to a vision of a unique project and process, and of Denmark's ambition to accomplish a task that has been placed in our hands.
EU enlargement is the greatest political task of our generation. It is a challenge and an opportunity reaching beyond the present day. It marks the end of the tragedy of the division of Europe that marred the 20th century, and provides a gateway to a common future for our peoples, in freedom, peace and prosperity.
The 20th century was a tragedy for Europe. Before the First World War, our Continent was characterized by optimism, self-confidence and faith in the future. These values were lost in the Great War, and we never really recovered the optimism and faith in the future that preceded it. Two horrible world wars tore our Continent apart. The mayhem of the Second World War was followed by more than 40 years of Communist dictatorship in Central and Eastern Europe. For nearly half a century, we lived with an unnatural division of Europe.
Now, at long last, we can close one of the darkest and most bloodstained chapters in Europe's history. EU enlargement marks the beginning of a new era. It can give Europe both the dynamism and the drive to create the foundation of a new European consciousness. It is the key to the future of Europe.
In the Convention on the future of the EU, member states and candidate countries are already discussing how to organize the EU in the years ahead. It is important that we secure efficient institutions and decision procedures. This is necessary in order to develop our internal market and economies, create new jobs, promote sustainable growth, and strengthen our competitiveness. It is a prerequisite for the EU to be able to play a strong and positive role internationally, promoting peace, sustainable development, free trade, and good governance.
Together we shall build this common future, and to move toward this goal, the discussions in Copenhagen will focus on three questions.
First, we will complete negotiations with up to ten countries: Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, the Slovak Republic and Slovenia. This is a realistic ambition. But all involved--both candidate countries and current member states--must show the necessary flexibility in the final round of negotiations.
The second question is how to continue the negotiations with Bulgaria and Romania. These two countries are not yet ready for membership.
At the Summit in Brussels in October, we decided to support these two countries in their efforts to achieve EU membership in 2007. In Copenhagen we will make concrete decisions on how we may strengthen their preparations for membership. The Commission has presented a very reasonable proposal for how this can be done. I expect that we can find reach agreement on this basis.
The third question relates to Turkey, with which accession negotiations have not yet begun. The expectations of the new Turkish government--and of the Turkish people--are high. At the same time, however, it is the assessment of the Commission that Turkey is still not yet ready to initiate accession negotiations. It must first fulfill the clear political criteria defined by the EU in Copenhagen ten years ago.
In Copenhagen this time around, we will make decisions on the next stage of Turkey's candidacy. We must find a balanced answer reflecting both the present situation and the potential for development in Turkey. As a candidate country, Turkey will, of course, be treated like all other candidate countries, and it will be important to send a clear signal to the Turkish people confirming their belief in the perspective of membership and a future based on Western and European values.
Europe's leaders meet in Copenhagen this week to unite our continent in peaceful cooperation. What generations of Europeans have dreamt of is at long last within reach. Leaders from both member states and candidate countries face a historic decision. After ten years of preparation the time has come to make the final crucial decisions on enlargement.