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EU: Ministers Argue Over Labor Movement Curbs

Brussels, 14 May 2001 (RFE/RL) -- EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels struggled today to reach agreement on a dispute over how fast to open their labor and service markets to future members from Central and Eastern Europe. Germany and Austria fear the anticipated influx of cheap Eastern European labor after former communist countries join the EU.

Candidate countries call the proposed restrictions unfair.

The European Commission estimates that admitting 10 East European nations to the EU could result in a migration to the more prosperous west of 3.9 million people over 30 years.

Spain and Portugal are concerned EU expansion could cut into their EU aid. Both countries want a guarantee regional aid funds will remain at current levels after poorer newcomers join.

Speaking after talks in Brussels today, Spain's Foreign Minister Josep Pique said his country, together with Portugal, Greece, and Belgium, oppose demands by Germany and Austria to close EU labor and service markets to new members for up to seven years after accession.

"One position is mostly the position of Germany and Austria, very restrictive and with a delay in the application of acquis (EU law) of about seven years including services and without any principle of differentiation among candidates. This is unacceptable, for example, to us."

But Pique said Spain was ready to compromise if richer EU members, led by Germany, agreed to continue guaranteeing generous EU subsidies to poorer EU states.

German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer today rejected the linkage, saying the two issues had to be addressed separately.

Sweden's Foreign Minister Anna Lindh said she is "quite optimistic" the issue will be resolved during Sweden's EU presidency. Sweden's term ends 30 June.

The foreign ministers also discussed the political situation in Macedonia and ongoing violence in the Middle East.

EU foreign ministers today welcomed Macedonia's new coalition government.

A statement issued by the 15-nation bloc urged ethnic Albanian political leaders to use their influence to establish peace in Macedonia and said the new government must achieve concrete results as soon as possible.

A three-member EU ministerial mission is due to visit Skopje on 16 May to discuss the latest developments with local leaders.