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Europe: EU Tops German Minister's Tour Agenda

Bonn, 15 October 1997 (RFE/RL) -- German foreign minister Klaus Kinkel today began a tour of Bulgaria, Macedonia and Latvia for discussions on foreign policy issues and particularly their relationship with the European Union.

Kinkel's discussions are closely tied to the EU summit meeting in Luxembourg on December 12 which is expected to announce the start of negotiations on expanding the EU.

Six countries are widely believed to be under consideration: Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Estonia and Cyprus. Another five countries have pushed hard to be included without much success so far.

In all the countries he is visiting this week Kinkel will stress that Germany wants them to have a role in the developing closer co-operation in Europe although membership of the European Union may not come for some time.

Kinkel conferred with the Bulgarian prime minister Ivan Kostov and foreign minister Nadezhda Michailowa in Sofia today. He told them that Germany would support Bulgaria's efforts to gain entry into the EU and NATO.

The German minister goes to Macedonia tomorrow for talks with Prime Minister Crvenowski, and will meet the foreign ministers of the three Baltic states in Riga on Friday.

Bulgaria, Latvia and Lithuania have all expressed deep disappointment that they are not among those likely to be considered by the European Union summit in December. Latvia and Lithuania are particularly unhappy that Estonia is on the December list while they are not.

In Sofia, the German foreign minister is expected to hear new suggestions that the European Union should adopt what is known as the "starting line" approach to new members.

This envisages that all 11 candidate members participate in the preliminary round of negotiations, expected to begin in January. A decision on which of the 11 are eligible for the first round of expansion should take place only after these preliminary discussions.

German officials have previously likened this approach to a foot race in which all candidates line up at the starting post and the best win. It has won some support from Sweden, Denmark, Italy and Greece but is not favored by Germany and other countries.

A German foreign ministry spokesman said today that Kinkel is expected to suggest a modification of this idea. According to this, the European Council will decide when each individual candidate has fulfilled the basic requirements for membership. Those that win approval will be allowed to join the negotiations already in progress with other countries.

The spokesman said that in Riga on Friday, Kinkel will stress Germany's desire to see all three Baltic states in the European Union. The spokesman said Kinkel's message will be that "the Baltics belong to Europe."

The Foreign Office spokesman said that in each country Kinkel will also stress the need for good neighborly relations and fairness towards minorities. In Macedonia he will discuss the nation's relations with Bulgaria, Greece, Albania and Serbia and the treatment of the Albanian minority.

Another theme of Kinkel's tour is international crime, which has become a major issue in Germany. He will call on all the Government leaders he meets to take forceful steps to stop crime crossing borders.