London, 15 January 1998 (RFE/RL) -- British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook said yesterday that enlargement of the EU to include the Central and East Europeans would give an "immense boost" to all the economies of the union, including its new members.
Cook was speaking to the European Parliament in Strasbourg where he set out Britain's aims and objectives during its current six-month rotating presidency of the 15-nation EU.
Cook said Britain wants to see "A Europe which stretches from Warsaw to Edinburgh" -- a reference to the upcoming negotiations on eventual EU membership for the Central and East Europeans.
He said: "We want to use this British Presidency to create an effective and inclusive Union that is open to the whole of Europe."
He said: "Enlarging the EU is an historic opportunity. It will give an immense boost to all our economies. It will fulfill the challenge set some eight years ago when the Iron Curtain was brought down -- to create a prosperous, self-confident and stable Europe."
One of Britain's key tasks is to implement accords reached at last month's Luxembourg summit when EU leaders backed the European Commission's recommendation that five central European countries, plus Cyprus, are ready to open negotiations to enter the union. The so-called "fast track" five are the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Poland and Slovenia.
Cook said Britain has two objectives -- to get the membership negotiations "off to a flying start" and to "help those who have further to travel, to make sure they feel included in the process."
This was a reference to the "slow track" five not yet considered ready for full membership talks (although being offered "accession partnerships") -- Bulgaria, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania and Slovakia.
Cook pledged continuing EU support for all 10 applicant countries to help them reform their economies, privatize state-owned corporations, and strengthen their public administrations.
He said this support is designed to show the applicant countries that "we mean it when we say we want them all in the Union, as soon as they are ready" to meet the criteria for EU membership.
Cook said these criteria include the need for a market economy, democratic governance and observance of human rights. Analysts said it could be years before applicants can reach the EU standards.
Cook said the inaugural meeting of the European Conference -- a British initiative -- will be held in London on March 12.
All 10 East and Central European countries have been invited to the talks which, according to Cook, will "be a demonstration of the inclusive Europe we want to build." The conference is intended to be the first in an annual general discussion of European issues -- ranging from unemployment, the environment, crime and drugs.
Cook said the single biggest European concern is jobs. He said over 18 million people are unemployed in the EU, five million under 25. That mean that one in 10 of Europe's young people are jobless.
Cook said Britain will press for cleaner air in Europe. It will host a Transport and Environment Council in June, aimed at taking forward proposals for limiting particle emissions from vehicles.
On crime and drugs, he said Britain will lead an initiative to help the drug-producing countries in Central Asia "stem the flow."
Cook, who goes to Washington tomorrow to brief the US on Britain's plans for the EU presidency, said the other major decision, aside from enlargement, is which currencies are to be included in the single European currency, to be launched on Jan. 1, 1999. He also said Britain will press for the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy, propose measures to make EU decision-making more transparent, and work to help implement the peace deal in Bosnia, and improve the effectiveness of EU aid to the region.
Cook said: "The EU has to change to meet the challenges posed by enlargement, but also by the changing world."