PRESS RELEASE

Helsinki Seminar on the Accession Process

12 November 1999

[See also: ECB press conference following the Helsinki seminar on the EU accession process, with a transcript of the questions asked and the answers given by Mr. Tommaso Padoa-Schioppa, Member of the Executive Board of the European Central Bank, and Mr. Esko Ollila, Deputy Governor of the Bank of Finland, Helsinki, 12 November 1999.]

Helsinki, 12 November 1999

A high level "Seminar on the Accession Process", took place on 11 and 12 November 1999 in Helsinki, gathering the Eurosystem (the ECB and the central banks of the 11 euro area countries) and the governors of the central banks of the 12 EU accession countries (Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Cyprus, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia). The Seminar was jointly organised by the European Central Bank (ECB) and Suomen Pankki, the Finnish central bank. It was the first event of this kind. A second seminar will be held in Vienna next year.

The objective of the Seminar was to make a complete review of the central banking issues involved in the accession process, to identify the main problem areas and to enhance co-operation between the Eurosystem and central banks of candidate countries.

Against this background, a number of issues were discussed, in relation with the process of accession to the European Union and the different steps following on from accession (entry of the currencies into ERM II, prospective adoption of the euro).

The following key points emerged from the discussion:

  • central banks have a crucial interest in the timely adoption and implementation of the so-called "acquis communautaire" (the set of obligations deriving from the Treaties, secondary EU legislation and the jurisprudence of the Court of Justice) in their fields of competence. Although they are not directly involved in accession negotiations, they will closely follow the process and express their views. This relates in particular to the independence status of central banks and to other legislation in the monetary field as well as to the banking and financial market. In this respect, the implementation of the acquis is not only a formal requirement for accession, but it is also essential for establishing the appropriate conditions for stability-oriented monetary policies, sound banking systems and well functioning market economies;
  • nominal and real convergence should be pursued in parallel. By modifying their economic structures in line with those prevailing within the EU and by implementing appropriate structural reforms, accession countries will speed up the process of "catching up", whereby their living standards will progressively evolve towards levels closer to those of the EU (real convergence). Historical experience shows that this process should go hand in hand with price stability and sound public finances (nominal convergence). Progress towards fulfilling the Maastricht criteria as a condition for adoption of the euro is therefore fully compatible with structural reform;
  • accession countries need to continue to implement monetary policies geared to achieving and maintaining price stability, and to support this process with prudent fiscal policies and adequate structural reforms;
  • no common path should be prescribed to all 12 accession countries with regard to the orientation of their exchange rate policies prior to accession, the inclusion of their currencies in ERM II or the later adoption of the euro. Against the background of different starting-points for the economic reform process and the difficulty of ascertaining the lead-time for further headway towards nominal and real convergence, a plurality of approaches should be feasible without compromising equality of treatment; and
  • the smooth functioning of banking and financial markets is of utmost importance for the applicants to be integrated successfully in the Single Market initially, and the euro area at a later stage. As in the euro area, so in the accession countries the financial sector has been characterised in recent years by intense restructuring (mergers, acquisitions, privatizations). Central banks will contribute to ensuring that such developments occur within a general framework of stability.

The Helsinki Seminar followed a number of bilateral visits and contacts between the European Central Bank and the monetary authorities of the accession countries. National central banks that are part of the Eurosystem have long-standing relationships with accession countries and will develop them further in the Eurosystem. In particular, to enhance the mutually beneficial working relationship between the Eurosystem and the central banks of accession countries, the Eurosystem stands ready to provide technical assistance in its field of competence.

Participants were welcomed by President Willem F. Duisenberg and Governor Matti Vanhala on the evening of 10 November. The Eurosystem was represented at the Helsinki Seminar by Mr. Tommaso Padoa-Schioppa, member of the Executive Board of the ECB, as well as by Deputy Governors or Board Members of the 11 national central banks of the participating countries. On the side of the accession countries, the meeting was attended by two representatives from each central bank, including Governors and other members of the respective Boards.

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