Accessibility links

EU: Potential Members To Discuss Details Of Expansion

  • Joel Blocker

Amsterdam, 26 June 1997 (RFE/RL) - Top officials of the European Union will meet tomorrow in Amsterdam with leaders of 10 Central and East European nations as well as those of Cyprus and Turkey for talks on the union's planned enlargement. All 12 countries are seeking the earliest possible entry into the EU, and they hope to hear what the effects of the EU's summit in the Dutch capital 10 days ago will have on their candidacies.

Plans call for three to four hours of discussion tomorrow morning between the leaders of candidate states and Prime Minister Wim Kok and Foreign Minister Hans van Mierlo of the Netherlands, whose term as EU president ends Monday (June 30). EU Executive Commission President Jacques Santer and the commissioner for relations with Eastern states, Hans van den Broek are also expected to take part in the talks. After press briefings, all the participants are due to lunch with Holland's Queen Juliana before returning to their own capitals.

Both Kok and Santer today criticized the Amsterdam summit for falling short of approving the internal institutional reforms necessary for enlarging the Union. Speaking to the European Parliament in Brussels, Kok said he was disappointed by the summit's failure to agree on new power-sharing arrangements within the EU before expansion begins. Santer told the EU's parliament that the summit's achievements on power-sharing were what he called "mediocre."

According to Dutch officials, the 12 candidate nations will mostly be represented by their prime or foreign ministers, or both.

Thus, both Czech Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus and Foreign Minister Josef Zieleniec, the man due to conduct Prague's membership talks with the EU, are expected to be present. So, say the Dutch officials, will Slovakia's Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar as well as numerous other Eastern leaders.

Last week, after the end of the EU Amsterdam summit, most Eastern leaders publicly put the accent on the positive by underlining that its conclusion at least now made it possible for accession talks with some candidate nations to begin in six to nine months. Tomorrow, they may get a more precise idea of when such talks will get underway. In the past, EU officials repeatedly pledged to begin negotiations at the beginning of next year. Since the end of the summit, however, there have been suggestions voiced in Brussels that the talks may not start before next Spring. That's because the treaty agreed upon in Amsterdam is not expected to be signed by all of the Union's current 15 members before October at the earliest.

But Klaus and other high Czech officials were outspokenly skeptical about the effects of the two-day summit on new EU memberships. Klaus' first reaction was to suggest that the EU's failure at Amsterdam to agree on the basic internal reforms needed for enlargement called into question the possibility of new members joining the group. Daniel Kroupa, who heads a Czech parliamentary delegation that works with the European Parliament, described the summit as "bad news" because, he said, it meant the breaks would now be put on expansion.

Czech skepticism about Amsterdam's results could turn to be simple realism. Yesterday, speaking in his own parliament, Belgian Prime Minister Jean-Luc Dehaene said his country would not agree to allowing the start of the EU's expansion to almost double its size without prior internal agreement among the 15 on institutional reforms. Dehaene said Belgium wants to introduce an explicit clause, saying just that, in an amendment to the treaty. He added that his country was supported on the issue by four other EU members --Austria, Finland, Luxembourg and Portugal.

The European Parliament today also backed Dehaene's request, demanding in a resolution that EU members agree on basic internal reforms before beginning the organization's enlargement process.

The Amsterdam treaty, whose final text has still not been made public, contains a protocol deferring all basic structural reforms necessary to manage enlargement until the actual start of the process, probably 2002 at the earliest. But Dehaene said the protocol was not sufficient, and insisted the EU agree on basic reforms well before enlargement begins. If indeed this is the position of five EU members, it will surely delay the Union's expansion until a compromise on the issue is thrashed out among the 15. That could take a long time, since long hours of wrangling about structural reforms at Amsterdam produced no consensus.

Central and East European leaders will not learn tomorrow which of their nations will take part in the first wave of membership negotiations. That decision will be taken formally by the EU at its December summit in Luxembourg, which takes over next week the organization's revolving presidency. But Eastern leaders should get a pretty good idea which candidates will be tapped in three weeks, when the EU's Executive Commission makes public what it calls its "opinion" on eligibility.

To be considered eligible for membership talks, candidates must have functioning free-market economies and democratic institutions that are seen to be working smoothly. Dutch officials tell RFE/RL correspondent that almost certainly means Slovakia, seen as insufficiently democratic, will not be in the first wave. The officials also say that Bulgaria, Romania, Latvia and Lithuania are all considered insufficiently advanced economically, and thus not likely to be chosen, either.

The officials note that to become an EU member, a candidate must be able to adopt the entire body of the Union's laws and regulations --some 3,000 items-- and still survive economically by being able as well to compete with West European nations. They say that only three to five Central and East European nations are thought to be able to meet those criteria in the immediate years to come.

The three most likely to be chosen in the first wave are the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland. Estonia and Slovenia, whose economies are seen as close to the level of the three Central European nations, are also still in the running for the first wave, the officials say.

As for Cyprus and Turkey, Dutch and EU officials say their joining of the first wave depends most of all on the swift resolution of the long-time quarrel between Greece --an EU member-- and Turkey on how Cyprus should be ruled. For more than two decades, thousands of Turkish troops have occupied a large section of northern Cyprus to protect, Ankara says, the Turkish community there against attacks from the larger Greek community on the island. Greece insists on the troops' departure before Cyprus' permanent form of government can be agreed upon.

A new effort to effect a compromise between Greece and Turkey has recently been undertaken by the U.S., which named former diplomat Richard Holbrooke as its special envoy on the Cyprus question. Holbrooke played a decisive role in pushing through last year's Dayton accords on Bosnia, which many thought impossible, and Washington hopes he can repeat his success on Cyprus. So does the EU's Dutch presidency, which would like to see Turkey as well as Cyprus join the organization as soon as possible. Foreign Minister van Mierlo has made a particular point of condemning anti-Turkish feeling within the EU, saying it is based on anti-Islamic prejudices.