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EU: Candidates Unfazed By Changes To Accession Timetable

Meeting with European Union leaders at the end of the Seville summit, the presidents and prime ministers of the 12 candidate countries for EU expansion appeared uniformly satisfied with its results. No candidate country professed itself unhappy with greater EU integration in the fields of immigration and asylum policy. Nor did anyone appear particularly concerned about the postponement of a decision on farm subsidies until early November.

Seville, 22 June 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Officials from the European Union's 12 candidate countries negotiating accession appeared today to jump at the opportunity to display generosity of spirit when their interlocutor in enlargement talks is clearly struggling.

Contrary to expectations and completely out of keeping with earlier summits, no candidate openly criticized the EU's decision to postpone until early November a decision on farm subsidies and other key financial terms of the enlargement. According to the enlargement "road map" approved at the Laeken summit last December, the EU was to have presented a position on the issue by the end of this month.

Although 10 of the 12 candidates are scheduled to finish negotiations by the end of this year, problems or potential snags are multiplying.

Ireland is preparing for another referendum on the Nice Treaty, the ratification of which EU officials say is absolutely necessary for enlargement. Yet no one admits to knowing what happens if the referendum fails.

Austria used the summit to threaten to block enlargement if the EU does not do something, and fast, to reduce truck traffic transiting the country.

Greece has promised to block enlargement if Cyprus is left out.

Add to this the forceful demand expressed today by German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder that agreement on financing enlargement must await highly contested reforms of the EU's costly agricultural policies -- the bulk of which are financed by Germany -- and anyone could be forgiven for thinking that enlargement is in deep trouble.

Yet outgoing Czech Prime Minister Milos Zeman generously said that the postponement of the financing decision until November does not matter. "What are two or three weeks compared to history?" he asked.

Most of his colleagues agreed, putting Germany's troubles down to "Wahlfieber" (election fever), a reference to the country's elections in September.

Latvian Prime Minister Andris Berzins said he is calm. Hungary's Peter Medgyessy said he understands Germany's current situation and said it is much more important that the summit reinforced the enlargement timetable. Among other things, the final communique of the summit says accession treaties with the first-wave entries will be signed next spring.

Even Polish Prime Minister Leszek Miller, who presides over the largest agricultural sector among the candidate countries and whose government relies on the support of radical farmers, said delaying the decision on financing would not change much. There's plenty to negotiate in the intervening months, he said, adding that the final few weeks of the negotiations would in any case be "very exhausting and difficult."

Candidate leaders were similarly well-disposed toward the EU's efforts to bring closer integration into the fields of immigration and asylum policies. Polish Foreign Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz said Poland is counting on increased cooperation to improve the "efficiency and quality" of the controls on its eastern borders, which after enlargement will also become the EU's external border.

Estonian Prime Minister Siim Kallas, whose country borders Russia, broadly shared this assessment, even if he appeared a little more guarded on the prospect of German, Italian, or Latvian officials' protecting Estonia's frontiers. In any case, his misgivings were shared by EU members Britain, Finland, and Sweden, and the idea of a joint EU border-police force was shelved at the Seville summit.

Finally, even second-wave hopefuls Bulgaria and Romania found cause to celebrate. The final conclusions of the summit praise the two countries' progress this year and promise a "revised and enhanced" pre-accession strategy later this year, possibly accompanied by "a more precise timetable" and increased financial support.

Romanian President Ion Iliescu said the document is an "encouraging sign," adding that the provision of a "time horizon" by the EU is very important. Romanian Prime Minister Ilie Nastase said his country is looking with hope to the Copenhagen summit in December. He added that Romania considers it important to conclude accession negotiations in 2004 before the first wave joins so as to be in a position to guarantee better entry conditions for itself.