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EU: Ministers Fail To Agree On Enlargement Issues

Luxembourg, 22 October 2002 (RFE/RL) -- European Union foreign ministers today failed to reach agreement on issues surrounding the financing of the bloc's enlargement, but did agree on a compromise offer to Russia concerning its Kaliningrad exclave. The negotiations now fall to EU prime ministers and presidents meeting later this week in Brussels, who face a 25 October deadline to reach agreement on enlargement financing. Danish Foreign Minister Per Stig Moeller said the bloc's planned expansion may be threatened if the deadline is not met.

EU member states are divided on how to share billions of dollars in farm subsidies and regional aid once new members join the bloc. Germany is seeking to speed aid reform aimed at eliminating handouts to farmers, but faces strong opposition from France, which wants to protect the aid its farmers receive.

The foreign ministers did agree on a compromise offer to Russia with regard to the future of the country's Baltic exclave of Kaliningrad, which is sandwiched between EU candidates Poland and Lithuania.

Denmark's Foreign Minister Moeller, who spoke for the EU's current presidency, said he believes the offer will allow the EU and Russia to conclude talks on the issue at their Copenhagen summit in November. "The task today was to unite the sovereignty of Lithuania, the efficiency of Schengen, the interests of Russia and the European Union. The conclusions we agreed on strike exactly the right balance between these interests. The result of the discussions today will be endorsed at the meeting of the European Council [in Brussels] later this week."

The compromise says Lithuania's visa requirement for Russian citizens will be implemented "flexibly" until a "facilitated transit" regime comes into force on 1 July next year. Lithuania retains the right to refuse entry to Russian travelers who must, from January 2004 onwards, carry international passports.

Lithuania will also agree to a feasibility study in 2003 on high-speed train links allowing Russians visa-free transit.

In return, the EU says it will guarantee that the compromise creates no obstacles for Lithuania's accession to the EU's Schengen visa regime "as soon as possible" among the first group of new members.

For more on this story, please see EU: Ministers Compromise Over Kaliningrad.