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Honourable Members of the parliaments of the candidate countries,
Honourable Members of the European Commission,
Ladies and gentlemen,
It is a great pleasure for me once again to stand before the European Parliament.
And it is a very special pleasure to me that today's debate is concerns the topic that stands at the very top of the agenda of the Danish EU Presidency: the enlargement of the EU. The greatest political project of our time.
I would like to thank the European Parliament and its President, Mr Pat Cox, for having created the framework for this debate. It is a special event that today the Members of the European Parliament are supplemented with parliamentarians from the EU candidate countries. I cannot imagine a more auspicious point of departure for the concluding enlargement negotiations up to the Summit in Copenhagen in three weeks.
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Our debate today is a unique event. A mere fifteen years ago, it would have been unthinkable. A dream. Today, the dream has come true.
The collapse of the Wall was the result of the desire for change among the populations of Eastern and Central Europe. Citizens, individually and as populations, demanded freedom and the opportunity to create a better life for themselves and their fellow citizens.
The populations rose in protest, and the brutal and inhuman dictatorship of Communism collapsed. The Wall was torn down and this opened a new way for Europe.
The enlargement is Europe's path into the future. The enlargement is fundamentally driven by the same wishes and forces that brought down the Wall. The ambition for a common future in freedom, peace and prosperity.
For almost ten years, we have been walking together down this path. Towards enlargement. Towards the future. We have not always agreed on all details. However, we have had a common goal, and this goal is now within reach.
It is now, over the next few weeks, that all the parties involved must make the crowning effort. Reach the concluding necessary compromises and complete the negotiations with the first group of candidate countries. Now is the time for us to live up to the promises we gave to each other. Now is the time for us to unite Europe.
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We took a decisive step forward in the enlargement process at the Brussels Summit in October. However, there remain a number of questions that must be clarified and settled. Allow me to highlight two of these issues:
First, Cyprus. The UN Secretary General recently presented a very extensive proposal for a balanced and fair solution for reuniting the island.
On behalf of the European Union, I would like to thank Mr Kofi Annan for this proposal for a peaceful solution to a conflict that has haunted Europe for many decades.
I strongly urge all parties to this matter to seize this unique opportunity to secure a solution, so that the EU may receive into its circle of Member States a united island at the Summit in Copenhagen.
Second, I want to emphasise that the enlargement which we are to bring to completion within the coming weeks will not be the final one. Bulgaria and Romania are two countries that will hopefully also become members of the European Union in a short number of years.
In Brussels, we decided to support these two countries in their efforts to reach the goal of EU membership in 2007. The Summit in Copenhagen will make concrete decisions on how we may strengthen their preparations for membership.
The message to Bulgaria and Romania is clear. The enlargement continues. The EU is open to European countries that want to become members, and which fulfil the requirements for membership.
Turkey is a candidate country. However, no accession negotiations have yet been initiated with Turkey. As a candidate country, Turkey will, of course, be considered like all other candidate countries. That is, Turkey must fulfil the political criteria before accession negotiations may be initiated. Turkey has already done much in terms of fulfilling the Copenhagen political criterion. I call on Turkey to continue the reform process, not least in the shape of actual implementation of the reforms already adopted. In Copenhagen, we shall make decisions on the next stage of Turkey's candidature.
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We have three weeks to complete the negotiations with the first ten countries. The EU Presidency and the Commission are negotiating with the candidate countries on the basis of the clear mandate we received in Brussels.
The negotiations are fair and open. Difficulties remain in relation to most candidate countries. Issues must be settled. This is quite natural. However, the goal is in sight, and it is my firm conviction that all ten countries will be able to complete the negotiations if the political will is there.
The will to reach results is necessary. The agenda for the Copenhagen European Council already now looks set to be complicated.
It is therefore of decisive importance that we clear as many issues as possible before the Summit itself. It is the ambition of the Danish EU Presidency to complete the negotiations with as many countries as possible already before the Summit in Copenhagen.
With this, I have also indicated that there will not be time to handle all sorts of special issues for individual countries at the Summit in Copenhagen. The negotiations will be closed with the countries that are ready for it. That is the way it is going to be.
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The enlargement is a key political and economic advantage for Europe. The Enlargement will lead to closer integration of the European economies. Trade and investment across borders will rise. Both new and existing Member States have every opportunity to achieve stronger growth as a result of the enlargement. We are all winners in the enlargement process.
The direct costs for the populations in the present Member States are very limited, and it will, in any event, be a very modest price to pay for ensuring a united and peaceful Europe in the future. To the benefit of our children, grandchildren and generations to come after them.
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I am looking forward to a good and exciting debate in the European Parliament today. I hope that together we can send a clear message to the populations and Governments of Europe. A clear message that the time has come to complete the first round of enlargement negotiations; that the goal is in sight, and that all parties must now demonstrate their resolve to take the last crucial decisions.
Thank you, Mr. President.