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Europe: EU Leader Hopes Expansion Negotiations Begin Within A Year

Prague, 24 January 1997 (RFE/RL) --In Prague today, the European Union's Commissioner for relations with Central and East European states said that he was "hopeful" formal negotiations with candidate states in the area could begin at the end of this year or the beginning of next year.

But Commissioner Hans van den Broek again refused to commit the EU's Executive Commission to any definite date either for the start of negotiations or for the actual admission of one or more of the 10 Eastern candidate states.

He emphasized that the negotiations, once begun, would probably be protracted. He also said that ratification of any membership agreement with an Eastern state by all 15 parliaments of the EU could prove to be a long process, and therefore further delay admission.

Van den Broek made his remarks to reporters at the end of a two-day visit to Prague, where he met with Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus and other high Czech officials. He said the visit was, in his words, "very useful for both sides" and "a sort of pre-negotiation."

EU officials have repeatedly said that negotiations with Eastern candidate states would begin six months after the end of the Union's current Inter-Governmental Conference on internal structural reforms. The conference is due to concluded at the end of June, but so far there has been little agreement on basic reforms.