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EU Begins Expansion Talks With Six Countries

Brussels, 31 March 1998 (RFE/RL) -- The European Union today began separate negotiations with six applicants -- five Eastern European states and Cyprus. Hungary became the first of five Eastern European states to begin accession talks. Britain's Foreign Secretary Robin Cook said Hungary played a decisive role in tearing down the "Iron Curtain" and overcoming the divisions of the past. Hungarian Foreign Minister Lazlo Kovacs said Hungary will continue to give strong support to its neighbors, Romania and Slovakia, in their bids for EU membership.

Kovacs said he did not anticipate any change in relations with Romania as a result of yesterday's resignation of Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ciorbea.

Poland, Estonia, the Czech Republic and Slovenia also opened negotiations. Cook, who's country currently holds the EU presidency, told Estonian Foreign Minister Toomas Hendrick Ilves and his delegation that their country will "contribute to the Nordic dimension of the Union." Cook said Estonia will play an important role in fostering stability and good relations with neighboring Baltic states. Ilves said his country strongly supports early EU membership for Latvia and Lithuania.

Czech Foreign Minister Jaroslav Sedivy said the Czech Republic wants to finish talks on EU accession by 2000 so it can become an EU member in the first five years of the next century. Cook mentioned no set end date for the country's talks.

Cook emphasized to all the delegations that EU membership demands effective implementation of all the EU's rules and regulations.