Prague, 23 January 1997 (RFE/RL) - The European Union's top official for relations with Central and Eastern Europe today refused to name a date when the first candidate states from the area will become members of the EU.
But in remarks to an audience of diplomats and businessmen in Prague, Commissioner Hans van den Broek suggested -- in very guarded language -- that the first Eastern nations to join the Union would almost certainly not be eligible before the year 2002, and perhaps not until well afterwards.
Van der Broek would not comment directly on the controversy over yesterday's issuance and then abrupt withdrawal in Brussels of an EU Executive Commission paper on EU enlargement. He said only that there was no question about "if" the 10 Central and East European candidates would be admitted, only a question of "when" that would occur. (The 10 candidates are Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia.)
The EU 30-point fact sheet about future enlargement that was withdrawn underlined the length and complexity of future talks with candidates states from the East. The paper said that "the earliest realistic date for the first (Eastern) successions would likely be no earlier than 2002." Explaining the paper's withdrawal, a Commission spokesman said it did not represent the Commission's official view.
Asked today whether Eastern candidate states might be "disappointed" by the mention of the year 2002, van den Broek replied: "Disappointed perhaps, but not confused -- because they know exactly what we (the Commission) are talking about."
Earlier, in a prepared speech, van den Broek underlined the difficulties that the Czech Republic would have in meeting the economic criteria that would allow it to take part in the EU's Single Market, which provides for free passage of goods and people among member states.
He said it would be what he called "a major challenge for lawyers, judges and, in particular, the public administration to come to grips with internal market rules." He reminded his audience that all 10 candidate states had received a "white book" from the Commission citing no less than 1,300 measures necessary for participation in the single market.
But van den Broek assured his largely Czech audience that the Czech Republic would probably be among the first Eastern candidates admitted to the EU.
Van der Broek is on a two-day visit to Prague to discuss requirements for the country's entry into the EU. Tomorrow he will meet with high Czech officials, including Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus.