Brussels, 10 November 1998 (RFE/RL) - The European Union today opened negotiations with front-running applicants for EU membership. The Council of Ministers, consisting of the foreign ministers of the 15 EU states, held a first negotiating round with Cyprus, then with Hungary. Estonia won warm praise from EU officials for the level of its preparations. Polish Foreign Minister Bronislaw Geremek said his country remains optimistic it can gain early membership despite recent indications to the contrary.
Hungarian Foreign Minister Janos Matonyi said several subject headings at the negotiations had been successfully concluded, including those relating to small business policies and education and science policies.
Speaking to journalists after the talks, Matonyi said he expects the next discussions on telecommunications, foreign and security policies, and audio-visual policies to go smoothly.
Concerning Estonia, the commissioner in charge of enlargement, Hans van den Broek, said Estonia in recent years had liberalized its economy quickly. He said that in today's first round of accession negotiations, Estonia had not asked for any transition to cope with changes.
Polish Foreign Minister Bronislaw Geremek said Poland will be ready to join the EU by the end of 2002. He says he considers the period immediately after that time to be a realistic accessory date.
He noted that in talks with the Poles, Germany's new political leadership has promised to use its coming presidency of the EU to push ahead with internal EU reforms.
Negotiations will take place regularly from now on at both ministerial and deputy levels.
Yesterday, German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer called the meetings historic, saying the expansion process will mean that united Europe does not just exist in the West, but also includes the East.