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EU: Members, Candidates Hold Talks At Barcelona Summit

Barcelona, 15 March 2002 (RFE/RL) -- European Union leaders today wrapped up the first session of their two-day summit in the Spanish city of Barcelona.

The session saw the first joint sitting of leaders from the EU and candidate countries, who discussed ways to integrate the candidates into EU economic reform plans. The aim of the EU reform program -- known as the "Lisbon agenda" after the March 2000 Lisbon summit, where it was adopted -- is to make the bloc the most competitive economy in the world by 2010.

Josep Pique, Spain's foreign minister and chair of the current EU presidency, said the candidate nations expressed "almost absolute" agreement with EU reform objectives.

A summit working document seen by RFE/RL says the candidates were told that their participation in the Lisbon process will provide them with an incentive to move forward with structural reforms in industry, labor markets, financial markets, and overall market competitiveness.

The 12-page document says transition-related reforms are almost completed in many candidate countries. But it says significant deficiencies remain, especially in areas such as industrial restructuring, labor market reforms, and overhaul of financial sectors.

Commenting on the EU's own efforts to keep up with the Lisbon process, Pique told reporters today that all member countries recognize that "not enough progress has been made so far."

Pique added that the Spanish presidency will be pressing for "concrete undertakings with concrete dates" in further meetings today and tomorrow. The main issue of contention at Barcelona is the liberalization of the bloc's energy markets, without which the European Commission estimates the EU will lose 15 billion euros a year.

Agreement has so far been blocked by France, where the idea of privatizing the state-held electricity monopoly is deeply unpopular and where parliamentary and presidential elections are being held later this spring.

An EU source, who asked not to be named, said the French position submitted to EU leaders last night is "not promising."

In the margins of the summit, EU representatives also met with Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica and his Montenegrin counterpart, Milo Djukanovic, to discuss yesterday's agreement to retain the federation between the two countries. Pique praised the agreement.

"I believe this (union of Serbia and Montenegro) is magnificent news because the Serbs and Montenegrins maintained their unity in the only way that guarantees the future of Serbia and Montenegro, as well as the region as a whole, in its progressive integration into the European structures and also in its progressive integration into the international community."

Pique said the EU will put "its full might" behind the process of building a "clear union" between Serbia and Montenegro.

Pique said the afternoon session of the summit today will address the situation in the Middle East.

"We think that there is no alternative to the peace process. There is no military solution for the conflict, so we have to make all our best efforts in this direction and insist on the need for an immediate cease-fire."

Pique said EU leaders may also discuss the implications of any possible U.S. military action against Iraq in the next phase of the war against terrorism.