Brussels, 9 December 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Romanian Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana called it a historic day after the European Union agreed late yesterday to conclude entry talks with Bucharest.
The EU is set to officially endorse the deal at its summit on 16-17 December, where a host of other issues, including opening entry talks with Turkey, are on the agenda.
But Geoana, speaking after talks with the EU's Dutch Presidency, acknowledged that Romania had to accept tough new entry terms that must be met to avoid a one-year delay in joining the EU. They include tough deadlines for reforms on the legal system, border protection, corruption, and state aid to industry.
Geoana said Romania would work hard to meet the new conditions, which are tougher than ones set earlier this year for Bulgaria, and be ready to join the EU in 2007.
But in an interview with a small group of reporters, the EU's new enlargement chief said several EU members are concerned about Romanian foot-dragging on reforms. Olli Rehn said that these states, including his native Finland, have insisted on having the EU retain the right to delay Bucharest's membership.
"Because there are exceptional circumstances and because Romania has a lot of hard work to do in these two fields [legal and economic reforms] in the next two years, the council wanted to retain the possibility to decide on a suspension of membership by a qualified majority vote," Rehn said.
Rehn is part of a recently appointed European Commission that faces a number of tough challenges. They include wrapping up accession talks with Bulgaria and launching them with Ankara.The Turkish Issue
Regarding Turkey, Rehn said he opposes moves by some EU members to tighten the conditions that the commission laid out in October.
"The commission's position is that the commission recommendation from October includes clear conditions and a rigorous monitoring mechanism and the emergency brake as a measure of last resort, as well as a well-developed negotiation strategy as regards benchmarks for opening and closing chapters [of EU law]," Rehn said. "Therefore, we think that no new conditions should be set now for Turkey."
Recent drafts of the planned summit declaration on Turkey, drawn up by the Dutch Presidency, suggest making it easier to break off talks should reforms stall in Turkey. They also offer more restrictions on Turkish labor immigration. And they ask for Turkey to recognize Greek-run Cyprus.
The divided island is a sensitive issue. Turkey has given no indication of being prepared to recognize its Greek side, a new EU member that is threatening to veto entry talks for Turkey altogether.
we think that no new conditions should be set now for Turkey." -- Rehn
Rehn said that a full recognition of Cyprus should not be a precondition, adding though that "goodwill" is needed from both sides.
"It is not useful to overburden the already rather burdened European Council [that is, the 16-17 December EU summit] by new elements or new conditions for Turkey," Rehn said. "However, in parallel, I see that political goodwill is required from all sides, all actors of the Cyprus problem, and the commission view is that we should [encourage] all the parties to move toward working for a solution to the problem in more concrete terms."
Rehn appeared not to support attempts to limit the goal of Turkey's entry talks to a "privileged partnership," thus falling short of actual membership. He said that the EU is "a community of commitments" and it has repeatedly said Turkey can become a member.
Rehn also rejected suggestions that planned curbs on the movement of Turkish workers to the rest of the EU would amount to "second-class membership." He pointed out that the measure would be a "safeguard clause" that, although permanently available, would not amount to an automatic ban.
Commission officials have said it is not yet certain that the upcoming EU summit will provide Turkey with a definitive date for the start of talks. Some members, notably France, argue that giving Turkey a date now could complicate efforts to ratify the new EU constitution.Action On Ukraine
The commission is expected today to unveil its three-year long "action plans" for the some neighboring countries, such as Ukraine.
For his part, Rehn did not rule out an eventual membership prospect for Kyiv. But he confined relations for now to the framework provided by the EU's New Neighborhood Policy.
"I think that Ukraine is clearly a European country and it is wise to say that 'never say never,' but at the same time it is much more credible to provide concrete political and economic support for Ukrainian democracy," Rehn said. "Once we have worked on the basis of the European Neighborhood Policy Action Plan which lasts the next three years on the condition of free and fair elections being held -- once we enter the last period of that action plan, then we can review progress made and evaluate how we could develop this concept of European Neighborhood Policy for Ukraine."
Rehn said there will be no "big bang" decision on further enlargement during his five years in office. Instead, he said that the current candidates will join the EU in a "gradual and managed" process.