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EU: Poland And Hungary Progress In Accession Talks

Luxembourg, 12 June 2001 (RFE/RL) -- The EU's enlargement commissioner, Guenter Verheugen, said today that criticism of Poland's relatively slow progress in enlargement is misplaced.

Speaking in Luxembourg after meeting Polish Foreign Minister Wladyslaw Bartoszewski, Verheugen said Poland's size accounted for most of its problems.

"I think it's not at all fair to judge the progress of negotiations with Poland only on the basis of the number of opened or closed chapters. In reality, one must understand that Poland's overall negotiating circumstances are much more complex than those of any other candidate -- that is clear."

Bartoszewski agreed with Verheugen, saying accession talks were not a "soccer league." He said Poland's relatively slow progress in talks was due to a tough negotiating stance demanded by the country's public.

So far, Poland has closed 16 of a total of 31 negotiating chapters. Frontrunners Hungary and Cyprus have both closed talks on 22 chapters.

Poland has also been caught by second-wave Lithuania and Slovakia, which have both closed 17 chapters.

Meanwhile, Hungary today became the first candidate country to close the chapter on the free movement of labor in the EU accession talks by agreeing to restrictions demanded by the EU on worker movement after enlargement.

Verheugen called the deal a "real breakthrough," saying it was a fair compromise.

"I can't be happier seeing that our strategy works and that we have found a way how we can deal with the most sensitive issues. I would like to say that this success was possible because both sides respected the needs and sensitivities on the other side."

Germany and Austria have pressed for a maximum seven-year delay after enlargement before Eastern European workers are allowed access to EU labor markets.

The EU today promised Hungary to gradually increase labor market access for Hungarians from accession.

Hungarian Foreign Minister Janosz Martonyi also said he had been told by Sweden and Holland that they would open their labor markets from the date of enlargement.

Hungary also won a right to impose reciprocal curbs on EU workers seeking access to its labor markets.

Martonyi said he was happy with the EU promises, but said it was a basic precept of accession talks that all topics could be returned to before the full accession treaty is signed.