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EU: Internal Reform Issue Won't Delay Enlargement

Amsterdam, 27 June 1997 (RFE/RL) - Central and East European participants in this morning's Amsterdam meeting with top European Union officials say they spoke little about the issue of internal EU reform, which is delaying the EU's proposed eastward expansion. Dutch Prime Minister Wim Kok told journalists that enlargement would not be slowed by internal reform questions.

Officials from prospective member countries told RFE/RL that during three hours of talks today, their governments praised the results of the EU summit in Amsterdam 10 days ago. That summit has been severely criticized in the Western press for failing to reach agreement on reforms considered necessary for enlargement.

But Eastern participants say they agreed with the judgment of Kok, who said that all 12 nations gave a positive assessment of the EU treaty agreed upon in Amsterdam.

Estonian Foreign Minister Toomas Hendrik Ilves said the reform issue was raised by only one participant. Ilves said that Central and East European leaders mostly urged that their candidacies be judged favorably.

Kok of the Netherlands, which holds the European Union's Presidency, said today that the failure of the organizations's recent Amsterdam summit to agree on institutional reforms will not affect the pace of the EU's planned expansion to the East. He told journalists that enlargement of the EU to nearly twice its present size of 15 members will not be slowed by internal reform questions.

Kok said there had been agreement in principle at the Amsterdam summit of 10 days ago that institutional change was necessary for an enlarged union. He said that it only remained for the EU to find what he called the right "technical means" of effecting the change.

Kok spoke at a news briefing at the conclusion of this morning's three-hour meeting in Amsterdam between top EU officials and leaders of 12 countries seeking early membership in the Union. Ten of the 12 are from Central and Eastern Europe, the other two are Cyprus and Turkey.

Speaking at the same briefing, EU Executive Commission President Jacques Santer said that, after Amsterdam, the EU was firmly on the road to enlargement.

Santer confirmed that the Commission will deliver what it calls its "opinions" on which candidate countries should be in the first wave of enlargement in mid-July. He said its decisions would be based on political as well as economic considerations -- that is, whether a candidate meets the EU's democratic and human-rights criteria.

But Santer emphasized that what will be decisive in the Commission's choice of first-wave applicants will be candidates' demonstrated ability to meet quickly all the EU's economic rules and legal obligations, which number some 3,000 separate items.

Both Santer and Kok underlined that the final choice of first-wave applicants would be made by the 15 at a December summit in Luxembourg.

Yesterday in speeches to the EU's Parliament in Brussels, Santer and Kok said the EU's summit earlier this month had fallen short of accord on basic internal reforms necessary for the Union's planned enlargement to the East.

Santer described as mediocre Amsterdam's futile efforts to agree on changing power-sharing arrangements originally conceived for six members in order to prepare for its coming expansion to more than 25. He said the summit's failure did not augur well for enlargement.

Kok, whose country holds the EU presidency until Tuesday, told the European Parliament that he was equally disappointed by the summit's inability to reach accord on internal power-sharing arrangements. He said he hoped the EU would show greater collective political will when the enlargement process begins.

The Amsterdam summit deferred all basic reforms until the actual start of the enlargement process. Most EU officials believe that will probably not occur earlier than five years from now.

The Parliament severely criticized the summit, demanding in a resolution that EU members agree on the needed internal reforms before any enlargement is undertaken.