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EU: Enlargement Summit Runs Into Trouble On Second Day

  • Ahto Lobjakas

To the evident dismay of the European Union's Danish presidency, the negotiating skills of officials from one of the smallest member states were being pushed to the limit during today's second day of the Copenhagen summit. Poland and -- somewhat surprisingly -- Hungary have refused to yield in their demands for a better entry deal, putting into jeopardy Denmark's carefully assembled summit agenda.

Copenhagen, 13 December 2002 (RFE/RL) -- The second day of the European Union's historic Copenhagen summit started auspiciously enough.

In the early hours, Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen -- who represents the EU's current presidency -- expressed hope that a morning meeting with the Polish delegation could see an early closure of the entire enlargement deal.

The day has so far proved Rasmussen wrong on more than one count.

Poland has kept EU negotiators busy by refusing in two successive rounds of talks to let up in its demands for an increase in its financial package. But Poland has not been the Danish presidency's sole headache, with Hungary introducing new financial demands of its own.

At one stage, the talks with Poland became so strained that the delegation from Warsaw threatened to break up negotiations altogether.

Denmark's "Europe" minister, Bertel Haarder -- speaking for the Danish presidency -- said he had urged Poland not to leave the table, telling journalists that would "sadden" everyone, but that Poland would be the one to lose the most.

Nevertheless, he said, the EU position would stand.

"My message is, don't build up unrealistic expectations, because the package that the Danish presidency has presented is a very good package, as I have said several times. It is a victory for Poland."

Haarder insisted the EU could not make more money available to Poland and the other candidates. He said the EU's Danish presidency simply lacked the mandate to make such an offer.

EU diplomats -- speaking on condition on anonymity -- say a number of member states intent on cutting costs blocked moves sponsored by more generous countries like Sweden to modify the offer.

Referring to Germany, one official asked, "What do you do if the biggest net payer does not play ball?"

He also said Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende -- who represents another net contributor to the EU budget -- is hampered by a narrow mandate from his parliament, which ties the Netherlands to the restrictive limits set on the enlargement budget by the EU's Brussels summit in October.

Meanwhile, the Polish side was in an equally determined mood. Speaking while the second round of EU-Polish talks was under way, Michal Tober, the Polish government spokesman, said negotiations were "very tough" but refused to confirm reports that Poland had threatened to break up the talks if its demands were not met.

Tober told RFE/RL that Poland is ready to extend the talks beyond the EU's close-of-the-day (1700 Prague time) deadline today.

"No one knows what will be the deadline of the summit. The hotels and the conference center are reserved till Sunday (22 Dec). No one knows -- not even the Danish government -- how long it will take. But we are ready to negotiate as long as possible."

Tober said Poland wants to hold the EU to the enlargement budget agreed to at the 1999 Berlin summit, which foresees 2.1 billion euros more for the new members than the current EU proposal.

Officials said Poland is demanding a 1 billion euro increase beyond the current 40.5 billion euros which the EU proposes spending on enlargement between 2004 and 2006. The new member states, in turn, are expected to contribute around 15 billion euros to the EU budget.

Late this afternoon, Poland and the EU held a third round of talks.

Meanwhile, the Danish presidency's worries were compounded by Hungary, which had by late afternoon held two negotiation rounds of its own. Hungary's foreign minister, Laszlo Kovacs, told journalists that his country is demanding a 500 million euro increase in the EU's direct farm subsidies offer to the new members in 2004 to 2006.

The EU offer on the table at Copenhagen would entitle the new members to 25 percent of EU levels in 2004, 30 percent in 2005, and 35 percent in 2006. Additionally, the new members could use other EU funds and their own finances to raise the level to 45 percent in 2004, 50 percent in 2005, and 55 percent in 2006. The Hungarian request was, however, directed at increasing the base percentages before any "topping up."

The intensity of bilateral talks with Poland, Hungary, and, on certain lesser issues, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, meant that delegations from smaller candidate countries like Estonia and Latvia were consigned to observing from the sidelines of the summit. Denmark was simply unable to find the time for even the most cursory courtesy talks with them.

Turkish membership was initially predicted to be almost as important an issue as enlargement. Ankara was left today to rail in frustration against a decision by EU leaders late yesterday to consider giving Ankara a date for starting entry talks with the bloc only at the end of 2004.

Finally, the Copenhagen summit appeared today to deliver a small boost to second-wave candidates Bulgaria and Romania. A Danish presidency draft of the summit conclusions said the EU would support the "objective of their membership" in 2007 -- a small but tangible upgrade by the standards of EU officialese from the conclusions of the Brussels summit in October. At that time, the EU had distanced itself from the ambition, noting it was supporting only "Bulgaria's and Romania's objective" of joining in 2007.

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