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EU: Leaders Struggle To Agree On Reforms For Eastward Expansion

Amsterdam, 17 June 1997 (RFE/RL) - Leaders of the European Union's 15 member states today are struggling to reach agreement on a new treaty reforming the EU's institutions before its planned expansion to Central and Eastern Europe.

Officials told our correspondent that major differences remain as the EU leaders' meeting in Amsterdam neared the end of its second and last scheduled day. Subjects of disagreement included the appointment of an EU secretary general for foreign affairs, proposed modifications to EU voting arrangments, and proposals for closer cooperation on asylum, immigration, visa policy and crime fighting.

Earlier today, Italian Foreign Minister Lamberto Dini said there was only a 50-50 chance the summit, originally scheduled to conclude early this afternoon, would end on time. Other EU officials said the summit could spill over into tomorrow.

The unexpected blockages emerged as the EU leaders spent today reviewing a 157-page draft treaty for institutional reforms which includes more than 100 amendments. The treaty is intended to provide the institutional framework for expansion, focusing on how the EU's institutions, commissions, and council of ministers will be reformed to take in new members.

The EU has promised to open negotiations with many central and eastern European states within six months of the new treaty being signed. In line for membership negotiations are Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Slovenia, Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, Romania and Bulgaria.

Also today, the EU leaders were reported unable to agree on integrating the Western European Union (WEU) defense group into the Union. Correspondents say the 10-nation WEU is now likely to remain an independent body that is sub-contracted to carry out humanitarian, peacekeeping and crisis management missions for the EU.

Going into today's summit, Britain had led lobbying against incorporation of the WEU, arguing that it would water down the role of NATO. France and Germany had supported the idea of expanded EU defensive operations through the WEU.

During the first day of the Amsterdam summit yesterday, the EU leaders resolved a French-German dispute over terms for launching Europe's single currency in 1999. They also agreed to add measures to boost growth and employment to a plan that fines countries for running up big budget deficits.