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East/Central Europe: Six Nations Recommended For EU Entry

Brussels, 15 July 1997 (RFE/RL) -- The European Commission formally agreed today in Strasbourg to recommend six nations for a first wave of European Union entry talks. Commission spokesman Nikolaus van der Pas named the six countries as Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovenia, Estonia and Cyprus. Commission President Jacques Santer will present the recommendation to the European Parliament tomorrow.

EU leaders are due to make a final decision on which countries will be invited to early membership talks at a summit in Luxembourg this December. The outcome of that meeting remains up in the air.

Of the 10 Central and East European candidates seeking membership in the EU, Bulgaria, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania and Slovakia were not not recommended for first wave entry.

Earlier today, however, Danish Foreign Minister Niels Helveg Petersen reiterated Denmark's desire to have the EU start entry talks with all Eastern European candidates at the same time. Petersen noted the Commission does not take political decisions on new EU members, but that this would be done by EU governments at a meeting in Luxembourg in December.

The Commission's opinions on the 10 Eastern candidates were to be a part of its long-awaited "Agenda 2000," a document of some 1,200 pages that took more than a year to prepare. It is expected to include detailed opinions on the 11 candidate states and to deal with all questions involved in the EU's planned enlargement to nearly twice its present size in the next decade, particularly the projected cost of the expansion to the organization's members.

Agenda 2000 is likely as well to propose drastic changes in the EU's two most expensive programs, its Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and the so-called structural and regional funds the organization provides to less prosperous members like Greece, Portugal and Ireland.

Together, the CAP and structural-regional funds eat up close to 85 percent of the EU's $100 billion budget. For enlargement to go forward, they must be thoroughly reformed through decisions taken by consensus among the 15. Otherwise the EU will end up paying huge subsidies to nine million Polish farming families, just as it does today to French, German and British farmers. That is simply not feasible.

But the EU's recent record on critical internal reforms does not bode well for future agreement on reforming the CAP and the system of funding poorer members. At their Amsterdam summit last month, the 15 were unable to agree on basic institutional reforms equally necessary for an enlarged Union. Instead of streamlining the 20-member Executive Commission, for example, the summit decided to defer the problem until the EU numbered more than 20 members.

Similarly, the 15 got no where on trying to work out a system of extended qualified majority voting on important issues that is indispensable to the smooth functioning of an expanded Union.