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East: EU Summit In Cardiff To Focus On Future

London, 12 June 1998(RFE/RL) -- European Union heads of state and government meet in the Welsh capital, Cardiff, next week for a two-day summit (June 15/16) that will focus on the union's future as it prepares to enlarge into Central and Eastern Europe.

The summit will discuss a call by Germany and France for a more decentralized Europe that would be closer to its citizens and pay more respect to its political and cultural diversity. The call was made by Chancellor Helmut Kohl and President Jacques Chirac in a letter to the summit host, British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Their letter says it cannot be the goal of European policy to establish a European central state. It calls for a clearer demarcation of authority between the EU and its 15 member states, and also demands an overhaul of excessive regulations from Brussels.

British officials say the Franco-German concerns will be debated over a working lunch on the first day of the summit Monday. They say Blair's pre-summit tour of 12 European capitals shows there is a growing consensus behind the need for a "reformed political vision."

Blair said after the tour EU leaders support the idea of a less regulated, more decentralized and more competitive union, and want to improve the relationship between the EU and its citizens. In particular, EU institutions are seen as remote and undemocratic.

Kohl, who faces a tough battle in general elections in September, will open a discussion in Cardiff on the principle of "subsidiarity" -- the idea that political decisions should be taken as closely as possible to the citizen, whether at local, regional or national level.

British officials say it is necessary to set a new direction for Europe before pressing ahead with the eastward expansion of the EU, an issue to be discussed on Monday afternoon.

Britain says the decision to invite the Central and East Europeans to open talks on EU membership was one of two "big projects" of its six-month tenure of the EU presidency (the other was the decision to launch the single European currency on January 1 next year).

Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovenia, and Estonia are in the first wave of applicants. The first concrete negotiations will take place with them after Austria takes over the EU presidency on July 1. The other five applicant countries, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia, Bulgaria and Romania, will have to wait in the queue.

The British are pressing for a constitutional conference next year ahead of enlargement to the east. The British argue that the EU must reform its finances, wasteful support of farmers and regional support funds so that it is in good shape to take on new members.

A Financial Times editorial today said the Cardiff summit must avoid encouraging further delays in enlargement as the admission of new members is already in danger of slipping to 2005 or later.

The 15 leaders will present national job promotion policies aimed at cutting the EU's 10.4 percent average unemployment rate (18 million are out of work, and the jobless level is double that of the U.S.). A source of possible friction will be Kohl's demand for a rebate on Germany's 60 percent share of the net payments to the EU budget.

The Serbian crackdown on ethnic Albanians in Kosova is on the summit agenda. Referring to NATO threats of military intervention, British officials said Blair, as holder of the EU presidency, believes "experience in Bosnia shows that we must act forcefully at a time of our choosing, rather than be dragged in later." The summit will close Tuesday after a lunch honoring South African President Nelson Mandela.