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EU: European Leader Wants Membership Talks Expanded

Vienna, 11 December 1998 (RFE/RL) - The president of the European Parliament, Jose-Maria Gil Robles, has called on the European Union (EU) to open early membership negotiations with several more Eastern applicant countries. The EU is negotiating with only five applicants -- the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Poland and Slovenia. Five other nations have applied for membership but the EU hasn't yet accepted them as ready for negotiations.

In remarks prepared for delivery at the EU summit in Vienna today, Gil Robles said that by expanding the negotiations the EU could demonstrate that the accession process is bringing all the Eastern applicants into play. He did not mention which extra countries he wants brought into negotiations. The EU Executive Commission recently gave special encouragement to Latvia.

Meanwhile, the prime minister of another Baltic country, Lithuania, said today he is confident all three Baltic states will enter the EU at the same time.

Prime Minister Gediminus Vagnarius said the only issue left for Lithuania's membership is assessing the degree of Lithuania's "Euro-maturity without causing any unwanted side effects."

Of the three Baltic states, only Estonia is currently in the front-running group for membership.

Yesterday before the Vienna talks opened, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said that EU financing reforms need to be completed before new members could be admitted into the union. And German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer has said a decision on entry dates could be delayed until 2000.

Warsaw's chief negotiator for EU membership, Jan Kulakowski, reacted to those comments today saying Poland is disturbed by Schroeder's words.

Poland, along with the Czech Republic, Hungary, Estonia, Slovenia and Cyprus, has begun negotiating entry to the EU and is pushing for the earliest possible membership.

In other news from the conference, a Turkish official today said his country will not tolerate any attempt by the EU to involve itself diplomatically with events in southeast Turkey. That is where independence-minded Kurds are fighting Turkish government forces.

The foreign ministry official, who spoke to RFE/RL today from Ankara on condition of anonymity, said the Kurdish issue is a purely domestic one which Turkey must solve -- no interference will be allowed.

He also reiterated Turkey's demand for the extradition from Italy of Kurdish guerrilla leader Abdullah Ocalan.

His comments today follow remarks to RFE/RL last night by a German official that the EU could be "helpful" in finding a solution to the long-running Kurdish conflict.