Nice, France; 7 December 2000 (RFE/RL) - Leaders of the European Union have opened talks in Nice with leaders of the 13 candidate member countries, mainly from Central and Eastern Europe. Over the next three days the summit is meant to decide on major institutional reforms to clear the path for the Union's eastward enlargement. The East-West meeting forms a preliminary part of the EU's Nice summit.
The leaders of 10 former communist countries in Central and Eastern Europe, as well as the leaders of Turkey, Cyprus, and Malta, are due to hold talks this morning with the EU leaders on the prospects of their countries joining the EU within the coming decade.
Correspondents say that at this morning's meeting the candidate countries will be looking for clear signals from the EU leaders that they have the will to carry through the needed reforms.
Swedish Prime Minister Goran Persson has said that failure at Nice would delay the enlargement. Many other EU leaders have warned of the difficulties of reaching agreement.
Thousands of demonstrators have gathered around a conference center in Nice. The protestors -- mainly trade unionists and anti-globalization activists -- are demanding that the EU leaders make a stronger commitment to improved work and social standards.
A large deployment of police used teargas to break up one group of protesters, and demonstrators blocked traffic on some streets. But they were not preventing delegations from reaching the conference center.