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EU: Candidates Uneasy As Future Of Europe Convention Continues

The second plenary session of the Convention on the Future of Europe ended in a wrangle today over candidate countries' demands for greater representation in the convention's agenda-drafting bodies and for the right to use their native languages in the convention's proceedings.

Brussels, 22 March 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Representatives of the 13 European candidate countries at the second plenary session of the Convention on the Future of Europe, held yesterday and today, voiced widespread dissatisfaction over the limits set on their participation in the convention's agenda-setting body, the Praesidium.

Many candidate representatives also demanded the right to use their native languages when addressing the convention.

Despite some support from EU delegates, convention President Valery Giscard d'Estaing today rejected the candidates' core demands.

Giscard d'Estaing said candidates should accept the Praesidium's offer last week to add one "guest" member representing the candidate countries to the Praesidium's 12 current members.

D'Estaing said the decision of the EU's Laeken summit in December to admit candidate representatives to the convention had been a "progressive" step and was "carefully prepared."

Giscard d'Estaing noted the Laeken summit had not granted full voting rights to the 39 candidate country delegates in the 105-member body. He said candidates should therefore remain "pragmatic," and argued that even representatives from current EU member states could not all enjoy fully equal participation in the convention's Praesidium.

"Naturally, not everybody is present in all the institutions of our convention. I see, for example, that in the Praesidium, only 10 countries are represented. There are five current members of the European Union who have no representatives there. None of their representatives has expressed their dissatisfaction to me over this." Earlier today, a number of the speakers from candidate countries made it clear they were unhappy with the offer of having one guest representative in the Praesidium -- moreover, one who would be prevented from fully participating in its deliberations.

Lojze Peterle, who represented the Slovenian parliament, said the candidates should have at least two representatives on the Praesidium, given that the 15 current EU member states have 12 representatives.

Guntars Krasts from Latvia said candidates should be accorded "moral equality" in the work of the Praesidium and urged the convention to upgrade their representative from "guest" to "associate" status.

These demands were supported by a left-wing member of the European Parliament from Denmark, Jens-Peter Bonde, who said that while candidate representatives in the Praesidium should not have the right to impede any EU-wide consensus, they should nevertheless not remain mere "observers." Bonde said the candidate countries should have two places on the Praesidium with the same rights as the current EU members. He said this would be an important "test" before up to 10 new members join the EU in 2004.

Speaking in his native Danish, Bonde also said candidate representatives should have the right to address the convention in their own languages -- a wish also expressed by a number of candidate delegates themselves.

Convention president d'Estaing appeared to reject the linguistic demands out of hand. "The second matter that was raised was that of interpretation. The [recent] European Union summit in Barcelona, where the candidates were present, also had no interpretation. No. We do not have a [requisite] translation service at the convention." Meanwhile, the candidate countries were unable to agree on who should be their representative at the Praesidium. A meeting of candidate convention members yesterday ended in disagreement after delegations from Hungary, Poland, and Latvia failed to turn up.

Diplomats say some candidate countries were reluctant to limit themselves to cooperation among candidates alone, preferring that all EU and candidate parliamentarians jointly select the candidate representative for the Praesidium.

However, candidate members of parliament today agreed to hold a joint sitting at the end of the convention session this afternoon to decide who would represent them on the Praesidium.