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EU: Starting Negotiations For New Eastern Members May Be Staggered

Brussels, 10 June 1997 (RFE/RL) - The European Union (EU) Commissioner responsible for relations with Eastern Europe and the CIS, Hans van den Broek, says that Commission thinking is moving away from the idea of starting negotiations at the same time with all ten candidate countries from Eastern Europe.

At a briefing today in Brussels, van den Broek said no decision has been made on this point - but, that he was only seeking to dispell the misconception he had noted in his travels: that the EU was formally committed to starting negotiations with all ten at the same time.

Our correspondent also quotes van den Broek as saying the Commission wishes to discourage any idea that countries would be discriminated against, if they were - after all - not chosen in the first wave of new members from the East. "Let's talks, in that case about 'in's' and 'pre-in's, rather and who's 'in,' and who's 'out,'" said van den Broek. This is the same language, he noted, that's being used already about countries who might, or might not, take part in plans for a single EU currency.

Van den Broek also said that none of the ten candidates from Eastern Europe could consider itself to be 'out,' because all ten have already been accepted as eligible for membership. Therefore, he said, it's only a question of timing - and the timing depends on the state of readiness of each country concerned.

As to the timing of actual membership being achieved. van den Broek declined to speculate, but added: "it's already clear that not all ten will become members on the same date." As to the date the first country or countries might join, he declined comment. But he did point out that only recently, the EU took 15 months to complete membership negotiations with countries such as Finland and Austria, which were already part of the same tariff-free economic zone.

Van den Broek's implication clearly was that negotiations with countries of Eastern Europe would take longer, and, therefore, they could not be concluded before the middle of 1999, at the earliest.

Replying to questions, van den Broek also indicated that, in one sense at least, political judgement will count more in the Commission's opinion about candidate countries than would economic factors. He put it this way: "If a country had not reached its goal of a market economy, with fully competitive conditions, but was clearly moving in this direction, then this would be taken into account - and count in its favor. But, in judging a country's democratic instutitions, human rights, etcetera - it would be hard to accept 'words' as a guarantee for the future."

"In such matters," van den Broek said, "candidate countries could be judged entirely on performance to date."

Van den Broek made it clear that the opinion on EU enlargement the Commission plans to issue to the European Parliament in Strasbourg will be a comprehensive document, going well beyond a recommendation as to whether an individual country qualifies or not to start membership negotiations. It will also deal, he said, with all the main financial perspectives looking ahead into the next century.

As to decisions being made on the Commission's recommendations, van den Broek said he hopes these will be made at the next EU summit in Luxembourg in December, so that actual negotiations could open at the start of next year.

"Of course," he said, "all this timing depends on the first summit this month in Amsterdam, and that it complete its work successfully."

On prospects for a single European currency, van den Broek said "it may prove to be a troublesome birth, but we continue to believe it will be a beautiful baby."