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EU: Verheugen Appeals To Austria Not To Block Czech Entry Bid

Brussels, 22 January 2002 (RFE/RL) -- The European Union's enlargement commissioner, Guenter Verheugen, issued a statement today urging Austria to respect the so-called "Melk agreement" signed last year with the Czech Republic over the Temelin nuclear power station.

Verheugen was reacting to an announcement by the Austrian government last night that nearly a million Austrians had signed a petition asking the government to veto the EU accession of the Czech Republic unless Prague shuts down Temelin.

Verheugen said he recognizes that there is "strong opposition" to nuclear energy in Austria, but added that as more than 80 percent of Austria's citizens did not sign the petition, the result also shows "an overwhelming majority" of the Austrian population is unwilling to jeopardize neighborly relations with the Czech Republic over Temelin.

Verheugen said the European Commission assumes that the Austrian parliament and government will respect the commitments made in the Melk talks.

Under the terms of December's Melk agreement -- which was mediated by Verheugen personally -- Austria undertook not to block the Czech Republic's accession into the EU, provided that safety at the Temelin nuclear plant is substantially improved.

Verheugen's spokesman, Jean-Christophe Filori, told reporters in Brussels today that Verheugen strongly opposes any attempts to renegotiate the Melk agreement.

"Commissioner Verheugen considers that the utmost was reached in this agreement between the Czech Republic and Austria. I would like to stress here once again that this is a unique fact in the history of nuclear energy that there is such a bilateral agreement with mutual commitments to enhance the safety level of a nuclear plant. This was never, never done before in the history of nuclear energy, including within the European Union."

Filori said the commission thought the Melk talks had yielded "the best possible result" for everybody, ensuring first of all greater safety of the Temelin installation. He said the commission saw no reason "for the moment" why negotiations on Temelin should be reopened.

Filori said that Commissioner Verheugen is "convinced" that the Austrian government will understand that it is not in its interests to block enlargement, as four of its eastern neighbors are EU candidate countries.

The German news agency dpa reports from Vienna today that Austria's Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel has rejected any "veto policy" against Czech entry into the EU. He did not, however, rule out further talks on Temelin.

Commission spokesman Filori today said that any attempt by a present EU member government to veto the accession of any of the candidates would automatically block the entire enlargement process. Filori said that although it was up to the member states to decide whether accession treaties should be ratified separately or all simultaneously, it was likely that there would be only one accession treaty "with eight, nine, 10 annexes."

Filori said the annexes would provide for the "stepping out" of any candidate in which accession is rejected in a referendum -- as happened with Norway in 1995. However, Filori indicated, the accession treaty would be unlikely to allow present EU members to accept only some candidates and reject others.