Strasbourg, 28 January 1997 (RFE/RL) - Jacques Santer, the president of the European Union's Executive Commission, today reiterated the EU's promise to begin membership negotiations with 10 candidate states in Central and Eastern Europe by the beginning of next year.
Santer said that EU enlargement to the East cannot begin without successful basic internal reforms now being considered by the Union's Inter-Governmental Conference (IGC). He expressed confidence that the IGC would successfully conclude by the end of June and that negotiations with candidate states would begin about six months later.
Santer noted that the candidate nations themselves want to join what he called "a strong Europe, a genuine political project and not a mere free-trade area." He said that kind of Europe could only be achieved if the IGC "produced positive results."
Santer spoke in Strasbourg to the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly, which is holding its Winter session this week.
Santer praised the Council of Europe for its "democratic authority" and for having taken what he called "bold action to blaze the trail" toward the integration of Europe's Eastern and Western halves. He noted that with 16 Eastern nations among its 40 members the Council's "ranks now include almost the whole of Europe."