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EU: Foreign Ministers Sign Treaty

Amsterdam, 2 October 1997 (RFE/RL) - European Union foreign ministers today signed the finalized version of a treaty intended to prepare the bloc for expansion, which will include new members from eastern Europe.

The brief lunchtime ceremony was held at Amsterdam's Royal Palace. The text of the treaty was agreed at an EU summit in June. The treaty must go now to national parliaments for ratification. The 15 EU leaders will decide in December which nations they will begin membership negotiations with early next year.

German Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel said today's treaty makes the EU "ripe for reform." But the governments of Italy, France and Belgium issued a statement saying additional institutional reforms are still needed.

Leading the pack of 11 nations hoping to join the EU are Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovenia, Estonia and Cyprus. Farther behind are Romania, Bulgaria, Lithuania, Latvia and Slovakia. The first newcomers probably will not join before 2003 or 2004.

Riot police clashed today with several hundred people who were protesting the signing of the treaty. The protesters charged the Dutch capital's central Dam Square outside the palace where the treaty was signed.