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Europe: Six More States To Start EU Entry Talks, Turkey A Candidate

Helsinki, 10 December 1999 (RFE/RL) - The European Union agreed today to invite six new states -- five of them from former communist Eastern Europe -- to start talks on joining the 15-nation bloc.

A spokesman for the Finnish presidency said membership negotiations will begin early next year with Slovakia, Romania, Bulgaria, Latvia, Lithuania and the Mediterranean island of Malta.

This will double to 12 the number of countries holding formal membership negotiations. Talks began earlier this year with the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Poland, Slovenia and Cyprus.

Also at its opening session today, the summit in principle recognized Turkey as an official candidate for membership. Talks on the details of Ankara's candidacy are continuing in Helsinki between EU and Turkish officials.

The EU leaders ignored a last minute plea by Russia not to start accession talks with Latvia, which Moscow accused of discriminating against its Russian-speaking minority.

EU leaders also agreed at the first session of their Helsinki meeting this morning to complete internal reforms of Union institutions. The reforms are likely to include extending the areas that are subject to majority voting -- rather than unanimous decisions -- changing the weighting of countries' voting powers, and limiting the number of posts on the EU's Executive Commission.