The president of the European Commission, Romano Prodi, used a keynote speech today to say the 11 September attacks in the United States would not delay the enlargement of the European Union. Speaking on the eve of the EU's Ghent summit, Prodi said the commission would resist pressure to delay concluding accession talks beyond the end of next year. He also called for greater EU integration -- both in terms of domestic matters and foreign policy -- to help the bloc tackle issues in the aftermath of the attacks.
Brussels, 18 October 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Romano Prodi, the president of the European Commission, says the EU's eastward enlargement remains an "absolute priority" for the commission, in spite of the 11 September terror attacks in the United States. Prodi made the remark in a speech delivered in the run-up to tomorrow's EU summit in Ghent, Belgium.
Prodi says he had received advice that the enlargement talks should be slowed down, but he says the commission has no intention of changing its timetable, which indicates talks with leading candidates could be concluded by the end of next year.
"There has been nothing official. There have been, however, strong and repeated expressions of concern that the deteriorating economic performance and increased political pressures could slow down -- either in member states, or in applicant states -- the drive toward enlargement. The response of the commission is that not a point has changed [in the roadmap]."
The official text of Prodi's speech did not contain any references to demands for delaying enlargement. Prodi did not specify who was behind the suggestions to slow down accession talks.
A spokesman for Belgium's Foreign Minister Louis Michel -- who chairs the day-to-day activities of the EU's current Belgian presidency -- denied that any member country had approached the presidency with demands to slow down enlargement talks.
Much of Prodi's speech dealt with measures the commission has proposed to fight terrorism. These include a common EU-wide definition of terrorism and commensurate penalties, and a common arrest warrant, which would replace national extradition procedures. Other measures include uniform EU-wide standards for air safety, better intelligence and police cooperation, freezing terrorist assets, and the allocation of 320 million euros in humanitarian aid to Afghanistan.
Prodi said the coalition against terrorism -- led by the United States -- must be complemented by a "coalition for development" -- led by the EU -- to help rebuild Afghanistan and underpin stability in the region.
Addressing the economic impact of the 11 September attacks, Prodi says the EU is in a comparatively better position than the United States. He points to higher savings rates in Europe as well as falling prices and ongoing structural reforms.
He says the euro -- which will replace the national currencies of the 12 euro-zone countries on 1 January 2002 -- will play an important role in protecting the EU against external shocks.
Prodi says the EU's relative strength derives largely from the drive toward integration spearheaded by the European Commission: "The political and economic foundations of the European Union are sound and solid. We have adequate policies and adequate institutions. The community method is functioning. Our confidence is based on our democratic debate on the governance and the future of Europe."
Prodi took the opportunity to demand a wider role for the commission in shaping the EU's foreign policy.
He criticized a decision by Germany, Britain, and France to hold a limited "pre-summit" before the start of the EU's Ghent summit tomorrow afternoon. Prodi said it was "a shame" that only some countries could attend, adding that if the commission ran the EU's common foreign and security policy, this would not happen.
Prodi has said in the past that the position of the EU's chief foreign and security policy coordinator -- now occupied by Javier Solana -- should be integrated into the commission. Solana answers directly to the 15 EU member governments.