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EU: Committee Says Enlargement Must Not Be Derailed By Nice

The enlargement of the European Union must proceed apace even if the EU's Nice treaty on institutional reform is not ratified by all member countries. This is perhaps the boldest suggestion in a draft resolution adopted this week in Brussels by the European Parliament's Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs. The resolution will be debated by parliament next week. Elmar Brok, the committee's chairman, spoke with RFE/RL correspondent Ahto Lobjakas. Brok comments on some of the central themes of the document.

Brussels, 30 August 2001 (RFE/RL) -- A committee of the European Union's parliament said this week that the eastward enlargement of the EU should go ahead as planned even if the EU's Nice treaty on internal reform is not approved by all members.

The European Parliament's Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs made the statement in a draft resolution to be debated by the full parliament next week. The resolution says enlargement should not be delayed if a second Irish referendum on the Nice treaty should fail.

Irish voters earlier this year rejected the Nice treaty, putting the issue of expansion in doubt.

Elmar Brok is the chairman of the foreign affairs committee. In an interview with RFE/RL this week, he expressed support for the EU's efforts to win over Irish voters in a second referendum. Yet, he says, a "responsible" course of action must be to look for other solutions should the Nice treaty fail.

"We have the danger that the Nice treaty will not be adopted by all [EU] member countries. This should not be used to delay the enlargement of the European Union, because it's not the fault of the candidate countries. Therefore, we have to look for other solutions [to] how we can solve the formal conditions for enlargement. This is especially the question of numbers of seats and votes [in EU institutions after enlargement] and some procedures which were in past enlargements dealt with in membership treaties themselves."

The European Parliament is the only directly elected body of the European Union. It has no immediate decision-making powers in the enlargement process, yet it gets broad media attention and is often used as a sounding board for EU decisions.

The demand that enlargement should not be delayed even if a second Irish referendum on the Nice treaty fails contradicts the position EU leaders adopted at their Goteborg summit in June. There they said that enlargement cannot proceed unless the treaty "spelling out institutional reforms enabling the union to cope with up to 27 members" is ratified by all member states.

In July the EU's enlargement commissioner Gunter Verheugen said that without the Nice treaty, enlargement was a "non-starter."

Brok delivers a blanket warning against any attempt to delay enlargement. Focusing on concerns expressed by some members and European Commission officials that some candidates may not be able to implement EU legislation in practice, Brok says the EU must not be overly scrupulous in the matter. He says the EU on occasion tries to be what he calls "holier than the Pope," demanding that candidates implement reforms -- in fields like environment and asylum policy -- that most members have yet to carry out.

Another central theme of the draft is the issue of the cost of enlargement. Both Brok and the text of the declaration make the point that, in the end, the benefits of enlargement are likely to outweigh the costs:

"[The] budget question is a very big burden in the future because of the financing of structural [changes] and because most of the applicant countries have a low level of economic development compared to the average of the EU. But, on the other [hand], [a] bigger union with [its] common market means more trade with the partners and this means a higher income for the member countries."

Brok and the declaration remain cautious on more concrete matters such as agricultural and regional development aid.

He tells our correspondent that new members cannot expect full agricultural and regional aid subsidies immediately after enlargement. He says the actual level of subsidies will be decided in a "political battle," pointing out that once they are full members, candidate countries will have full veto rights on budget issues.

The draft declaration also takes a clear stance on security matters. It states that enlargement is a matter solely for the EU and the candidates. According to Brok, this means that Russia, for example, cannot influence the terms of enlargement.

The declaration also suggests the expansion of both the EU and NATO are "naturally complementary" processes.

Brok says EU enlargement would be "easier" if candidates were simultaneously members of NATO

"The more members of the European Union are also members of NATO, the more we have a coherent security policy, and the easier it will be to keep the trans-Atlantic ties. We also know that Europe for the moment is not able to look after its own collective security. Therefore, it would be helpful to have new [members] also as NATO countries in order to have the same quality of security for every [European] Union country."

Brok says, however, that NATO membership is not a condition for EU membership -- simply an additional benefit and something the EU should promote.