Helsinki, 10 December 1999 (RFE/RL) - The European Union opens a summit in Helsinki, Finland today aimed at emphasizing the bloc's plans to expand eastward in the next century. However, correspondents report the meeting risks becoming overshadowed by concerns about Russia's war in Chechnya. The summit is expected to result in formal invitations to six countries to enter EU membership negotiations. The six are Bulgaria, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Romania, and Slovakia. They would join the six countries which opened EU membership talks last year.
The summit is also expected to address Turkey's bid to become a candidate for EU membership. Prime Minister Paavo Lipponen, of current EU president Finland, said the EU was close to recognizing Turkey as a candidate. But he said leaders were still seeking a formula that would satisfy demands by Turkey's rival and EU member Greece. The EU meeting is also expected to discuss plans for establishing an EU military force to handle crises without relying on NATO and the United States.