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EU: Consensus On Expansion Eludes Summit

EU officials stand by a map showing possible EU expansion (epa) BRUSSELS, December 15, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- In their summit conclusions, EU leaders praised the past enlargement of the bloc as a "success story."

They note how EU membership prospects spurred on reforms, the contribution the 2004 Eastern European entrants have made to the bloc's economy, and the boost their presence has given to the EU's global stature.

Yet, the summit declaration goes on to say that the notion of expansion is losing the support of the EU's public.

A New Consensus?

At the close of today's proceedings, summit host and Finnish Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen recapitulated the dilemma that the EU now faces: how to reconcile the apparently conflicting drives to "deepen" and "widen" the bloc.

EU leaders welcomed Germany's intention to develop a new EU strategy for Central Asia as the next holder of the bloc's chair between January and June 2007.

"It is important that the candidate countries meet the requirements and that the union is able to function effectively and develop," Vanhanen said. "All this must be done openly."

Many EU leaders spoke of a "new consensus" during the two-day summit. However, the consensus appears limited to admitting that the pace of enlargement must be slowed down, and that even countries already promised membership will face an uphill struggle in the form of tougher conditions and possible veto votes from current EU member states.

The summit also decided that in future, no applicants will be given any early indication of their likely entry date.

The summit formally brought to a close the EU's last enlargement, welcoming Romania and Bulgaria, both about to become member states on January 1, 2007.

Both countries are now widely regarded in Brussels as having slipped in under the net, capitalizing on early, rash promises made by the EU.

Ironically, the two countries' accession was rushed largely at the insistence of France, currently the main opponent of any future enlargement, but supportive of both Romania and Bulgaria owing to their perceived preference for the French language over English.

Or Old Divisions?

Looking to the future, the EU remains split over where to draw the line, or when.

Opponents of any further enlargement -- who scored a victory earlier this week by partially freezing entry talks with Turkey -- would like to limit foreseeable accessions to Croatia. For them, every other would-be EU member – be it Turkey or the other western Balkans countries -- should either expect an indefinite wait or something less than full membership.

The European Commission, the EU executive, holds the middle ground believing all current candidate countries -- Turkey, Croatia, and Macedonia -- and the rest of the western Balkans, which was promised EU membership in 2003, should qualify.

Ukraine? Georgia?

And then there are the supporters of continued enlargement, led by Britain and featuring most of the new member states. They spent the summit trying to leave the door at least theoretically open to countries such as Ukraine, Moldova, and, possibly, Georgia.

Are there likely to be many more added? (CTK file photo)

British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett clearly had this in mind late on December 14 when she said "new applicants" should not be deterred.

"If, however, there were to be a suggestion that there were to be new criteria, new hurdles or barriers erected to any new applicant for membership of the European Union, that we would oppose," Beckett said. "And my impression is a majority of member states would oppose new criteria and barriers."

Beckett represents the view maintaining that -- as the EU's basic treaties currently stipulate -- the bloc should remain open to "all European countries."

The debate on the future enlargement remains inconclusive for now. EU leaders are likely to return to it next in late 2008, when they are expected to make an attempt to revive the bloc's now moribund constitution.

The summit also adopted a series of foreign-policy declarations.

On Iran, the draft summit declaration says the country's nuclear ambitions are having a negative impact on regional stability and urge Tehran to proceed responsibly. EU leaders regret the continued deterioration of the human rights situation in Iran. They also condemn Iran's denial of the Holocaust "as a historical fact, either in whole or in part." The latter is a reference to a recent conference on the Holocaust that took place in Tehran, of which the EU says it rejects "the underlying premise and objectives."

Focus On Afghanistan

The EU leaders said they are ready to intensify their efforts to rebuild Afghanistan. Having spent 3.7 billion euros between 2002-06, the bloc now promises "strong commitment" to reconstruction in the years 2007-13. The draft declaration on Afghanistan says the EU recognizes that security and development are "mutually interdependent." The EU holds out the prospect of further rural development programs, investments in the health sector, and support to work to improve governance.

Finnish Prime Minister Vanhanen said specific further EU assistance targeting law enforcement structures is being considered.

"In addition to reconstruction and development assistance, we are currently examining a possible civilian EU mission in the area of policing and the rule of law," he said.

An EU delegation will shortly report on its recent trip to Afghanistan to study possibilities of such support. However, officials in Brussels have already made clear they will not be sending any training personnel to the country's troubled south.

The EU today also called on Afghanistan and Pakistan to "deepen their relations to cooperate closely to deal with insecurity in border areas."

The leaders also welcomed Germany's intention to develop a new EU strategy for Central Asia as the next holder of the bloc's chair between January and June 2007.

The summit also focused on stemming illegal immigration, which is becoming a serious problem for the bloc's southern member states. EU leaders are expected to agree to spend more money on border controls in and around the Mediterranean. They also look to build closer ties with countries in Africa where most of the current immigration pressure originates, to try and address its causes by means of improved development aid and other measures.

EU Expands Eastward

EU Expands Eastward

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