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EU: More Than Talk Needed Now To Realize Enlargement

  • Don Hill

Now that Irish voters have approved European Union expansion, EU leaders turn their attention this week to enlargement-policy concerns, such as the Common Agricultural Policy and questions over free passage between Russia and its exclave of Kaliningrad. At a summit in Brussels at week's end, the EU heads of state expect to endorse invitations for 10 countries to conclude accession talks by mid-December and join the EU in 2004. RFE/RL reports, however, that some difficult bargains remain to be struck before expansion can move ahead.

Prague, 21 October 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Nine kilometers from Ireland's city of Cork stands the 13th-century Blarney Castle, with its famous Blarney Stone. According to Irish legend, anyone who kisses the Blarney Stone receives the gift of eloquence. That's why English speakers sometimes label especially shrewd persuasion "blarney."

Irish leaders over the last few weeks have inundated voters with blarney in an attempt to persuade them to reverse last year's verdict against the Nice treaty, effectively blocking eastward expansion of the European Union. The campaign brought out almost half of Irish voters for a second referendum on Saturday. And voters approved EU enlargement with 63 percent of the vote.

But now EU-enlargement advocates face some equally intractable problems. And it's going to take more than Irish blarney to work them out.

One of these is how to deal with the union's Common Agricultural Policy, or CAP, into which about half of the EU's entire budget is invested. Another is the delicate problem of providing travel for Russian citizens between the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad and Russia proper, across what will become EU territory.

Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen issued an upbeat statement in Brussels yesterday after the Irish results became known. Denmark currently holds the rotating presidency of the EU. "The results of the referendum send a clear and positive signal to the Central and Eastern European countries that all EU countries take the enlargement seriously," Rasmussen said.

Yet Rasmussen, more than most, is in a position to understand the stumbling blocks that lie strewn in the path of major EU initiatives. The Danes fought the results of their own referendum in 1993, first voting "no" on the Maastricht treaty that opened the EU's internal boundaries and then reversing themselves in a second vote. And the Danes, along with the Swedes and Britons, still face referenda on joining the single-currency euro-zone.

It will be under the Danish presidency that the EU grapples with the huge problem of dividing agricultural subsidies, how to satisfy Russia's demand for unimpeded passage across new EU members Lithuania and Poland to and from Kaliningrad, and how to incorporate the divided Mediterranean island of Cyprus.

EU leaders have scheduled a two-day summit to start on 24 October in Brussels, at which they expect to approve recommendations to accept 10 new countries as members. Rasmussen said yesterday that he plans to insist in Brussels on reaching decisions on the thorniest problems. "We are not leaving Brussels without a result," Rasmussen said.

Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern was understandably triumphant yesterday in commenting on the Irish vote. "Our decision shows we remain strongly committed to the European Union, that we fully realize and accept that what is good for the people of Europe is good for the people of Ireland. But this decision shows, above all, that this is a nation which wants to welcome the peoples of the applicant countries into the union with open hearts," Ahern said.

There were voices in Ireland that were less than enthusiastic, however. Opponents of the "yes" vote complained that the Irish leadership's "blarney," and its staging of a second vote after its disappointment in the first, actually amounted to bullying.

Meanwhile, EU foreign ministers are discussing the funding of enlargement at a meeting in Luxembourg today and tomorrow amid sharp disagreement between France and Germany over the CAP. Germany has proposed reducing EU farm aid and applying the savings to help pay for expansion. France, whose subsidy-dependant farmers are known to take to the streets and country roads if need be, says it's too early to talk about so fiery an issue.

The CAP devours more than 40 billion euros ($38.9 billion) a year, and Germany, a net contributor to the EU budget, worries about the cost when subsidies to agriculturally inefficient countries like Poland and Hungary get added in.

The Kaliningrad and Cyprus issues do not come with enlargement price tags so much as diplomatic thorns, however.

Cyprus currently is divided between the southern part, governed by the internationally recognized Greek Cypriots, and Northern Cyprus, ruled by the self-declared Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, recognized only by Turkey. Turkish Foreign Minister Sukru Sina Gurel has warned that admitting Cyprus to the EU before settling the island's division might lock in the competing governments. Turkey, a NATO member but not yet accepted as an EU candidate, has said it might annex the northern part of the island.

Kaliningrad is a Russian exclave on the Baltic Sea separated from the rest of Russia by Poland and Lithuania. Once, as expected, Poland and Lithuania join the EU, Kaliningrad's residents will have to cross EU territory to get to and from the rest of Russia. Russia contends that to require Russians to apply for EU visas to travel from Russian territory to Russian territory would be an unacceptable insult.

The EU has proposed such remedies as special passes only for Kaliningraders or trains that remain sealed while going through non-Russian territory. Russia has rejected these ideas. Danish Foreign Minister Per Stig Moeller said the EU has shown great flexibility and is calling on Russia to be more cooperative.

Despite the impending problems, European Commission President Romano Prodi greeted the Irish referendum results yesterday with optimism. "I've been very happy -- I can say enthusiastic -- because now we can go on with enlargement. And above all, the Irish people have demonstrated they are strong supporters of the European ideas," Prodi said.

The 10 countries that EU leaders expect to bring into the union are the Czech Republic, Cyprus, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia, and Slovenia.