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EU: Members Split Over Expansion Strategy

Brussels, 22 July 1997 (RFE/RL) - European Union member states showed strong divisions today over how the Union should expand to bring in new Central and Eastern European members.

The foreign ministers of Italy, Denmark and Sweden told a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels that the enlargement process must ensure there is no obvious differentiation among European states wanting to join the western trading block.

Danish Foreign Minister Niels Helveg said the EU is "under an obligation to ensure Europe grows together."

But Germany and Austria said they are satisfied with admitting new members in a staggered fashion.

Today's disagreement comes after the EU's executive arm, the European Commission, recommended last week the Union invite just five of 10 would-be members states from Central and Eastern Europe to accession talks due next year. The Commission recommended inviting Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovenia and Estonia. It said Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia, Bulgaria and Romania are far from ready to open such talks. France and Denmark, however, say all 10 eastern applicants should begin entry talks at the same time, even though they might join at different dates. The EU's smaller countries, such as Luxembourg and Belgium, meanwhile, are in favor of an even smaller expansion to avoid a diminishing of their influence in the group.

Entry talks are set to begin at the EU's Luxembourg summit in December.