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EU: Candidates Prepare To Haggle At Copenhagen Summit

  • Ahto Lobjakas

Negotiators from most candidate countries held one of the very last rounds of EU accession talks on 2-3 December in Brussels. Yet, with the exception of Cyprus, no enlargement deals were clinched, and the proceedings were overshadowed by Germany's refusal to back extensive concessions proposed by Denmark, which is overseeing the final phase of the negotiations with the candidates. Talks are now very likely to come to a head at the EU's Copenhagen summit on 12-13 December.

Brussels, 4 December 2002 (RFE/RL) -- When making longer-term predictions about the European Union's financial affairs, it pays to bet on the EU's paymaster, Germany.

At the EU's Seville summit in June, Germany opposed moves to finalize the financial terms of enlargement before the Copenhagen summit in December. A formulation was nevertheless found suggesting it should be possible earlier.

True enough, the Brussels summit in October did come up with an offer, but one that was deemed insufficient by the candidates. Acting unilaterally, the EU's current Danish presidency offered concessions.

The new Danish compromise package was discussed extensively on 2-3 December in Brussels in another round of negotiations with the candidates. Yet, the talks were underscored yesterday by German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's clear rejection of the Danish compromise, saying it "does not meet Germany's needs."

Candidate negotiators appeared fully aware that attempting to amend the Danish proposal to achieve better farm-production quotas and financial benefits will be futile until the EU's net payers, headed by Germany, are brought on board.

Hungary's Endre Juhasz acknowledged yesterday that any further negotiations before Copenhagen are likely to achieve little beyond clearing the air for an eventual showdown at summit level. "There is an agreement, of course. We discussed somewhat how to handle this situation. It is obvious that only some options can go to the summit. We must channel the discussions at the summit meeting. If it's well orchestrated, the discussion, I think a favorable outcome could be reached," Juhasz said.

Although some negotiators spoke of small victories on farm-production quotas, and the narrowing of differences on issues like to what degree the new members can top up reduced EU farm subsidies using other funds, it was widely acknowledged that very nearly everything important needs to be decided at a level much higher than the negotiators' format.

Some even suggested that the talks had come to such an impasse that an EU foreign ministers' meeting scheduled for early next week might have to be called off as it lacks sufficient authority to make the necessary decisions.

Poland's chief negotiator, Jan Truszczynski, who speaks for the largest candidate country -- with one of the poorest economies -- seemed to discount altogether the need for further presummit talks. "Matters related to money will in all likelihood have to be finalized only during the summit in Copenhagen and certainly not in meetings like the one we had today and most likely -- I would even say with 100 percent certainty -- not during the [foreign ministers'] negotiation sessions scheduled for [next] Monday and Tuesday [9-10 December]," Truszczynski said.

According to most negotiators, political, summit-level talks are not only needed to settle how much the new members will have to contribute to EU budgets and how much they will get back in 2004-2006, but also just to determine what proportion of EU farming subsidies will be made available to the new members in the same period. Summit-level talks are also necessary even for the setting of farm-production quotas on products such as milk and cereals. They are also needed for setting "reference yields" and meat "premiums" that will determine the extent to which individual farm sectors are eligible for EU support money.

This means that the Copenhagen summit will most likely see the candidates pitted against the EU on most issues of substance related to financing the enlargement and agricultural production. This in turn means the EU's Copenhagen summit could easily turn into a marathon meeting where 25 heads of state will be forced to combine their particular individual interests into one single -- and unpredictable -- package deal.

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